Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

A Survey of Byzantine Responses to Islam

By Stefano Nikolaou


[The author received his M.A. in Theology from the Australian Catholic University in 2007. The following paper was an independent research project counting towards the MA degree and receiving high recognition.]


Table of Contents


Issues in Dispute

Byzantine Sources

  1. Histories and Chroniclers
  2. Hagiography
  3. Martyrology
  4. Polemical Works
  5. Diplomatic Correspondence
  6. Homilies and Sermons
  7. Liturgical References
  8. Miscellaneous References



  1. Primary Sources
  2. Secondary Sources

Document Appendix




The interaction between the Orthodox Christians of the Byzantine Empire and Islam began with the initial Muslim invasion of the eastern provinces in the seventh century and lasted until the final destruction of the Byzantine Empire with the capture of Constantinople in 1453. The initial meeting was on the battlefield as the Caliphate swept away the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire. As the Islamic military impetus petered out the two civilizations began a long period of mutual distrust interspaced with periods of war and a grudging status quo. Millions of Orthodox Christians were living under Islamic rule. These Christians were the first to provide accurate information on Islam. As the Byzantine Empire disintegrated, the citizens and theologians within the empire began to take note of Islam more and more. There was an increase in awareness in all sections of society. The final years of Byzantium witnessed the most accurate and extensive writings on Islam as the Byzantines attempted to challenge Islam on the intellectual level.

Despite the long history between the two civilizations little has been done in analysing the literary response to Islam by the Byzantines. Some of the specifically polemical works have been studied but little else. In order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the relationship between Islam and Byzantium the spectrum of Byzantine literature needs to be surveyed and analysed. Few Muslims chose to live in Byzantine lands. Many Byzantines would never have seen a real life Muslim. Their encounters would usually have consisted of contacts to travelling merchants or otherwise military encounters. However, the frontier was more fluid for Orthodox Christians. A number of writings by Christians under Islamic rule found their way to Byzantine territory and were utilised by native theologians and authors.

The term ‘Byzantine’ encompasses a range of meanings. It does not specifically refer merely to those who lived within the borders of the Byzantine Empire. John of Damascus, for example, is very much a Byzantine even though he never stepped foot in its borders. Orthodox Christians writing in Arabic, Syriac or Georgian were also very much part of the Byzantine cultural milieu. Non-Greek writings found themselves translated and transported to the Byzantine Empire where they shaped opinion.

Islam loomed large on the Byzantine psyche. The rapid success of Islam shocked the Byzantines, as they understood their empire as being protected by God. Islam was the most powerful rival religion to Christianity and controlled a vast amount of territory that dwarfed Byzantium. All this caused a demoralization of imperial theory. Theologians searched to find a reason for the losses suffered at the hands of Islam and determined that it was due to their sins. This permeated into the Byzantine consciousness. As a result of the numerous military encounters the majority of historians and chroniclers had something to say on Islam. However, the Byzantines were slow to see Islam as a serious ideological threat. They tended to refer to Muslims by ethnic terms such as Arab, Saracens, Ishmaelites or Hagarenes rather than religious terms.

The most informed Byzantine writings on Islam were those that specifically polemicised against Islam. Despite the long tradition of polemics Byzantine theologians have been accused of being ‘poorly informed about Islam, particularly its historical origins, motivations, ethical values, and spiritual content.’[1] However, the Byzantines displayed a much more accurate understanding of Islam than Muslims had of Christianity or the Latin West had of Islam at the time. This did not stop major defections to Islam throughout the centuries, especially after the 13th century, when Byzantium was no longer a political power. These simple people only had the vaguest idea as to the differences between the two religions.

The Byzantines inherited a long tradition of polemics from early Christianity. They were faced with the challenges of Judaism and Paganism. Theologians were then faced with heretics. Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyon composed attacks on Gnostics and the Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries generated a plethora of material. Anti-Islamic writings originated within a century of Islam’s advent and continued for nearly a thousand years. Byzantine theologians saw Islam through the lens of previous heresies. They refused to see it as a separate religion. Hence, the Islamic denial of the divinity of Christ was termed ‘Arianism’ and the abstinence from pork as ‘Judaism.’

It was in the nature of polemics to be as accurate as possible since otherwise they would be worthless for the reader. Polemics were expected to have some practical value. They were not merely some rhetorical writing exercise. Thus, it was not likely to be purposely deceptive or inaccurate. A number of the authors had intimate knowledge of Islam while others had to rely on oral information. Despite the language barrier, there was an attempt of accessing Islamic sources such as the Quran, hadiths and oral traditions. Some authors were certainly biased and prejudiced towards Islam. They had the staunch belief that Christianity was the superior religion. Islam was false in their opinion and they were tempted to make it look even worse. In the mindset of a Byzantine, it was impossible to be objective as it is the goal of modern authors. The polemicists did not pretend to hide their religious affiliations. Where the opportunity arose, they were happy to attribute the worst possible motives to Muhammad, the early caliphs and Islamic clerics. Polemics were also concerned with topics that were under dispute rather than give a complete and balanced presentation of the rival religious system. The existence of Adam, Abraham or Moses was never a point of dispute, as both sides had no doubts as to their existence.

In order to understand how Byzantines viewed Islam, a broad spectrum of documents and writings needs to be examined. This includes not only polemics and histories but less well known genres such as hagiography, martyrology diplomatic correspondence, homilies, liturgical texts and poetry. Most Byzantine writings that have references to Islam were aimed at a Byzantine audience. The language barrier itself was the major obstacle. Few Muslims would ever have ever mastered Greek. Polemics, however, had the possibility of being read by a wider audience.[2] The information contained in them could percolate to the masses. Polemics would have strengthened the faith of those who were curious or wavering in their faith or those who were detractors. However, it was probably the genre of hagiography that was the most widely disseminated and had the most significant impact on Byzantine popular perceptions. Hagiography was the most popular Byzantine literary genre and would have been read by all sections of society. The accounts of martyrs meant that Muslims were viewed as the new persecutors.

Neither Byzantine polemicists nor the historians represented the official policy of the government. They represent a range of voices. Authors generally represented the higher echelons of society. Literacy, a skill not achieved by the majority of the population, was an absolute necessity for the polemists. Illiterate or semi-literate peasants or merchants could act as informants to authors but they rarely appear in their own right. Byzantine authors needed to be part of the classically educated elite to be able to write a work that would be widely disseminated and continued to be copied.


Issues in Dispute: The Life of Muhammad and Islamic Theology

Muhammad’s biography

Both Muslim apologists writing in Western languages (like English) and Western secularists tend to go over the same ground when writing the biography of Muhammad. The biography is based on a limited number of early Arabic sources that are reworked and reinterpreted. Often in an attempt to portray Muhammad in the best light they either omit, gloss over, or attempt to explain away incidents that might be seen as disparaging to Muhammad by the modern reader. Interestingly most of these incidents are the same ones that Byzantine polemicist used to prove the falsehood of Muhammad. The similarities between modern polemics and Byzantine polemics indicate that the Byzantines were quite well informed about his biography but were selective. They were able to focus on the incidents that best suited their polemical purposes rather than presenting an unbiased and balanced picture of Muhammad. The following points were the main issues raised by polemicists:

1. Muhammad as an Arab and orphan

Muhammad’s father was named Abdullah. He died a few months before Muhammad was born. When he was six Muhammad’s mother died and he passed into the care of his grandfather.  The tribal group of Muhammad is described as having fallen on hard times despite the claim that it was a respected and noble family.[3] Byzantine theologians were well aware of these details. They could be extremely elitist and snobbish in using these aspects. For them, being an orphan was a negative thing for Muhammad. Arabs had been saints and martyrs, so Arab nationality was not necessarily a liability but in the case of Muhammad, it was. Similarly, many saints had come from a humble background but this was not an issue unless they chose to make it one.

2. Marrying an older widow

Byzantine theologians were aware of the Islamic tradition that when Muhammad was 25 years old he married the widow Khadija, who was some 15 years older than him. They knew that Muhammad had worked for her previously.[4] Christian polemicists were willing to attribute negative motives to Muhammad regarding this marriage. The marriage was seen as opportunistic on Muhammad’s behalf in order for him to acquire wealth and status.

3. The identity of Muhammad’s teachers

In the traditional biography of Muhammad, there are a number of individuals who appear to influence Muhammad. Because Christians did not accept the divine origin of the Quran, they used these incidents to show that human teachers had taught Muhammad. There is even a verse of the Quran (Q. 16:103) in which Muhammad denies that an unknown individual is the source of the Quran.  The Meccans were accusing him of having learned his stories from this unknown individual.[5] Muhammad lamely replies that the individual is a foreigner while the Quran is in clear Arabic. However, no Byzantine polemicist ever cited this verse to prove the point of human teachers for Muhammad.[6]

Chronologically, the first such reference is to a monk, traditionally named Bahira or Sergius, who recognised the prophethood of Muhammad on a journey to Syria when he was 12 years old.[7] The other important reference is to Waraqa, a cousin of Khadija. He is reported to have been a Christian and in possession of the Christian scriptures. On Muhammad’s initial revelation, he confirmed for Muhammad that his revelations were from God.[8] He then promptly died and disappeared from the scene. What Waraqa was doing for the 15 years Muhammad had been married to Khadija is never explained or elaborated. There is also the curious reference to the Hanifs (Arab monotheists) in the generation before Muhammad, who rejected the existing polytheism. These four men made a pact to follow the uncorrupted religion of Abraham. These men are known to have associated with Muhammad. One of them was Waraqa and another was ‘Ubaydullah, initially a Muslim but he became a Christian in Abyssinia. In all, three of these four men eventually became Christians.[9]

4. The origins of Muhammad’s revelation

The Byzantines found it hard to accept the claim that Muhammad had received any type of authentic revelation from God. There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the fact that Muhammad’s revelation contradicted core Christian doctrines made the Byzantine doubt anything he had to say. Secondly, Muhammad’s life was in sharp contrast to the ascetic model of the traditional holy man. That Muhammad had multiple wives, had people assassinated and indulged in a sensual life was enough for rejection. This led to two theories of the source of Muhammad’s revelation. The first suggested that Muhammad pretended to have revelations to hide his epilepsy. The second was direct satanic revelation. Often there was a combination of the two. The Byzantine could not accept the phenomenal growth of Islam was solely due to human activity.

5. The Lack of Miracles

The Quran states that Muhammad did not need to work any miracles other than the revelation of the Quran itself (Q. 6:125, 29:50). The Quran claims itself that it is unable to be reproduced (Q. 17:88). Christian polemicists contrasted the miracles of Jesus and the Old Testament prophets like Moses to the lack of Muhammad’s miracles.  Muslims soon began to manufacture miracles to counter Christian charges. The hadiths are full of miracles that are clearly created as polemical counters to charges by Christians and Jews.

6. The Satanic Verses

Tabari and Waqidi tell the now infamous story of the ‘Satanic Verses’. The story owes its origins to impeccable Islamic sources but Christians were more than happy to use it for their own polemical purposes. The term was not coined until the 1850s, when William Muir used it in his biography of Muhammad.[10] This story is a source of great embarrassment to Muslims but it served to justify to Byzantine polemicists that Muhammad was satanically inspired. The great success of Islam would have caused the Byzantines to naturally look for some explanation in religious terms. Initially the punishment by God was satisfactory but later a more sinister reasoning was needed. In the religious mind of the Byzantines a Satanic explanation seemed reasonable, even rational.

The actual incident was that while Muhammad was in Mecca he tried to persuade the Meccans to accept Islam. They were not receptive to him and made life difficult for him and his followers, and so Muhammad’s desire to see his people accept him and Islam remained unfulfilled. This was until Muhammad recited the following verse. ‘Have you thought of al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third ... these are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved.’[11]

Al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat were some of the local idols worshiped in Mecca and were venerated in the Kaaba. Previously Muhammad had spoken against them in his monotheist preaching but now Muhammad accepted the idols and recited that their ‘intercession is approved’. The Islamic explanation as to why Muhammad accepted the idols is that Satan put these words on Muhammad's lips. ‘Satan ... put upon his (Muhammad's) tongue “these are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved”’. [12]

Muhammad recited these words as if they were from God when, in fact, they were from Satan. This is what is meant by the phrase, the Satanic Verses: they are verses from Satan that Muhammad recited as if they were from God. Now that Muhammad had recited that the idols were acceptable, the Quraysh accepted him. When Quraysh heard that, they were delighted and greatly pleased at the way in which he spoke of their gods and they listened to him ... Then the people dispersed and Quraysh went out, delighted at what had been said about their gods, saying, "Muhammad has spoken of our gods in splendid fashion". Muhammad's desire had been realised; the Quraysh accepted him. The Quraysh accepted Muhammad because he had accepted their gods and idols. However, after some time Muhammad realised the error of what he had said. The Islamic explanation is that angel Gabriel rebuked Muhammad and held him accountable for what he had said. Then Gabriel came to the apostle and said, "What have you done, Muhammad? You have read to these people something I did not bring you from God and you have said what He did not say to you." Muhammad now said that God had now told him to speak against the idols and to reject them. What Muhammad recited now changed. Now the verse became: ‘Have you considered El-Lat and El-'Uzza and Manat the third, the other? What, have you males, and He females? That were indeed an unjust division. They are naught but names yourselves have named, and your fathers; God has sent down no authority touching them.’ (Quran 53:19-23) This final form of the verse is what is now in the modern Quran.

Muhammad now had to explain to his followers as well as to the Quraysh why he had changed his mind about their idols and no longer accepted them. The reason he gave was the following verse of the Quran. “Never have We sent a single prophet or apostle before you with whose wishes Satan did not tamper. But God abrogates the interjections of Satan and confirms His own revelations.” (Q. 22:52). Muhammad's explanation was that his momentary acceptance of the idols was because Satan had tampered with his wishes and given him words that he thought were from God, but that God had now removed these verses and corrected the whole situation.

7. Polygamy

Muhammad married multiple times. Traditionally he is said to have had eleven wives.[13] For Byzantine polemicists this was proof that Muhammad was a sensualist and a fake. The Byzantines were perfectly aware that the Old Testament patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob were polygamous but the tradition from apostolic times was staunchly monogamous.

8. Marrying Zeynab

The incident of Muhammad marrying his cousin, Zeynab, who had previously been married to his adopted son Zayd, was a great scandal. As early as John of Damascus, this incident is mentioned. The marriage is often cited as a ‘demonstration of Muhammad’s insatiable sexual appetite and his crafty manipulations of the revelations to further his own desires.’[14] Armstrong and numerous other apologists for Islam try to explain away the marriage along the lines of Muhammad’s concern for the welfare of Zeynab after an unhappy marriage but the Islamic sources give this incident a specific sexual connotation. The timing of a Quranic revelation (Q. 33:2-7) to justify the marriage is also seen as very convenient. For the Byzantines this incident, cited early in polemical literature, was proof of Muhammad’s insincerity. A modern critic of Islam like Ibn Warraq likewise finds the apologetic unconvincing and the entire incident abhorrent.[15]

9. Marrying Aisha

Muhammad married the six-year old daughter of his close companion Abu Bakr. He waited until Aisha was nine years old before he consummated the marriage. At the time, Muhammad was over fifty years of age. Armstrong cites a variant tradition that Aisha reached puberty before she had sex with Muhammad[16] in an effort to save his reputation but the sources are clear. Both the hadiths collected by Bukhari and Muslim cite the age of nine as the age at which Aisha consummated her marriage to Muhammad. Marriages for pre-pubescent girls were not uncommon in the ancient world but polemicists found this further evidence of Muhammad’s insincerity. That a spokesman from God lusted after a little girl was obviously impossible, especially in the Byzantine world where abstinence and asceticism were signs of spirituality and were highly valued.

10. Violence, Assassinations and Raids

In his lifetime, Muhammad was responsible for a number of massacres and assassinations, especially against his ideological enemies, and raids against his opponents. These date from Muhammad’s move to Medina where he gained political authority. The most horrendous atrocities committed by Muhammad included the murder of prisoners in his care after the battle of Badr; the assassinations of the Jewish poetess Asma bint Marwan, the Jewish poet Ka’b and the Jewish elder Abu Afak. The exile of two Jewish tribes from Medina and the execution of all the adult males of the third is another incident that modern authors try to explain away.[17]

When the apostle heard what she had said he said, "Who will rid me of Marwan's daughter?" `Umayr b. `Adiy al-Khatmi who was with him heard him, and that very night he went to her house and killed her. In the morning he came to the apostle and told him what he had done and he [Muhammad] said, "You have helped God and His apostle, O `Umayr!" When he asked if he would have to bear any evil consequences the apostle said, "Two goats won't butt their heads about her", so `Umayr went back to his people. Now there was a great commotion among B. Khatma that day about the affair of bint [daughter of] Marwan. She had five sons, and when `Umayr went to them from the apostle he said, "I have killed bint Marwan, O sons of Khatma. Withstand me if you can; don't keep me waiting." That was the first day Islam became powerful among B. Khatma; before that those who were Muslims concealed the fact. The first of them to accept Islam was `Umayr b. `Adiy who was called the "Reader", and `Abdullah b. Aus and Khuzayma b. Thabit. The day after Bint Marwan was killed the men of B. Khatma became Muslims because they saw the power of Islam.

When the fight at the trench and the affair of the B. Qurayza were over, the matter of Sallam b. Abu'l-Huqayq known as Abu Rafi` came up in connexion with those who had collected the mixed tribes together against the apostle. Now Aus had killed Ka`b b. al-Ashraf before Uhud because of his enmity towards the apostle and because he instigated men against him, so Khazraj asked and obtained the apostle's permission to kill Sallam who was in Khaybar. Muhammad b. Muslim b. Shihab al-Zuhri from `Abdullah b. Ka`b b. Malik told me: One of the things which God did for His apostle was that these two tribes of the Ansar, Aus and Khazraj, competed the one with the other like two stallions: if Aus did anything to the apostle's advantage Khazraj would say, "They shall not have this superiority over us in the apostle's eyes and in Islam" and they would not rest until they could do something similar. If Khazraj did anything Aus would say the same.

When Aus had killed Ka'b for his enmity towards the apostle, Khazraj used these words and asked themselves what man was as hostile to the apostle as Ka'b? And then they remembered Sallam, who was in Khaybar and asked and obtained the apostle's permission to kill him.

Five men of B.Salima of Khazraj went to him: 'Abdullah b.`Atik; Mas`ud b. Sinan; `Abdullah b. Unays; Abu Qatada al-Harith b. Rib'i; and Khuza`i b. Aswad, an ally from Aslam. As they left, the apostle appointed `Abdullah b.`Atik as their leader, and he forbade them to kill women or children. When they got to Khaybar they went to Sallam's house by night, having locked every door in the settlement on the inhabitants. Now he was in an upper chamber of his to which a ladder led up. They mounted this until they came to the door and asked to be allowed to come in. His wife came out and asked who they were and they told her that they were Arabs in search of supplies. She told them that their man was here and that they could come in. When we entered we bolted the door of the room on her and ourselves fearing lest something should come between us and him. His wife shrieked and warned him of us, so we ran at him with our swords as he was on his bed. The only thing that guided us in the darkness of the night was his whiteness like an Egyptian blanket. When his wife shrieked one of our number would lift his sword against her; then he would remember the apostle's ban on killing women and withdraw his hand; but for that we would have made an end of her that night. When we had smitten him with our swords `Abdullah b. Unays bore down with his sword into his belly until it went right through him, as he was saying Qatni, qatni, i.e. it's enough. We went out. Now `Abdullah b.`Atik had poor sight, and fell from the ladder and sprained his arm severely, so we carried him until we brought him to one of their water channels and went into it. The people lit lamps and went in search of us in all directions until, despairing of finding us, they returned to their master and gathered round him as he was dying. We asked each other how we could know that the enemy of God was dead, and one of us volunteered to go and see; so off he went and mingled with the people. He said, "I found his wife and some Jews gathered round him. She had a lamp in her hand and was peering into his face and saying to them 'By God, I certainly heard the voice of `Abdullah b.`Atik. Then I decided I must be wrong and thought, "How can Ibn`Atik be in this country?"' Then she turned towards him, looking into his face, and said, 'By the God of the Jews he is dead!' Never have I heard sweeter words than those." Then he came to us and told us the news, and we picked up our companion and took him to the apostle and told him that we had killed God's enemy. We disputed before him as to who had killed him, each of us laying claim to the deed. The apostle demanded to see our swords and when he looked at them he said, "It is the sword of `Abdullah b. Unays that killed him; I can see traces of food on it".[18]


Islamic Law and Practise

The Islamic laws that were particularly distinct or contradicted Christian practice were those that came up for discussion and criticism. Often the source was not the Quran or collections of jurisprudence but merely the observations of individuals.

1. Polygamy

The Quran allows Muslims to have up to four wives. The exact verses state ‘And if you fear that you cannot do justice to orphans, marry such women as seem good to you, two, or three, or four; but if you fear that you will not do justice, then marry only one or what your right hand possesses. This is more proper that you may not do injustice’ (Q. 4:3). Armstrong sees polygamy as a practical problem due to the number of Muslims who had died at Uhud[19] rather than the continuation of the existing Arab practice. Even in classical times only a small percentage of Muslims married more than one woman but the potential was there for any Muslim to marry more than one wife if the economic circumstances were right.

2. Prohibition of Pork

One of the most prevalent pieces of information known to Christians with even the most cursory knowledge of Islam was that they abstained from eating pork. It was so well known that historians often fail to mention it. Theologians liked to use this as evidence of Islam’s Judaistic roots. This was a good example of the cultural knowledge rather than knowledge of the Quran. Few Christians would have been aware that the Quran termed pork impure (Q. 6:145).

3. Prohibition of Alcohol

Byzantines were well aware that Muslims rejected the use of all alcohol. The verses supposedly manifested themselves when Umar approached Muhammad about a drunken Muslim. The Quran states ‘O you who believe, intoxicants and games of chance and (sacrificing to) stones set up and (divining by) arrows are only an uncleanness, the devils work; so shun it that you may succeed. The devil desires only to create enmity and hatred among you by means of intoxicants and games of chance, and to keep you back from remembrance of Allah and from prayer. Will you then keep back?’ (Q. 5:90-91) The Byzantines were aware of this prohibition as a practical custom rather then from knowledge of the Quran. Byzantines were always willing to point out Muslim inconsistency in following this. Despite the prohibition on alcohol, many Muslim leaders were openly drinking wine in their courts in direct violation of the Quran. Wine was an integral part of Byzantine liturgical life. Not only was wine allowed, but also it was a necessity for communion. It was not prohibited in the Old Testament either. Thus, the Byzantines could not attribute this prohibition to God.

4. Qibla

Originally, Muslims were directed to pray towards the direction of Jerusalem but Muhammad’s frustration at not being recognised as a prophet by the Jews of Medina caused a Quranic revelation (Q. 2:138) that changed the direction to Mecca. The direction of prayer towards Mecca was a public practice that non-Muslims would have found curious. A devout Muslim would have gone to great lengths to find the correct orientation for prayer. Orthodox Christians traditionally orientated their prayers to the East so the Islamic practice was different and distinct from theirs. From this practice Christians would have gained some awareness of the existence of Mecca and its importance for Muslims.

5. Fasting

During the month of Ramadan Muslims were required to fast from sunrise to sunset. Fasting was nothing new for Orthodox Christians of the Byzantine Empire as they had prolonged and rigorous fasts for numerous festive periods such as Lent, Advent and Saints’ Days. However, they criticised the Ramadan fast from their own perspective. Both sides accused the other of laxity. Byzantines often claimed that Muslims gorged themselves once the sun had set. The truthfulness of claims like this is unclear but the Byzantines were aware of the nature of the Ramadan fast.

6. Ritual Cleaning

The distinctive Islamic ablution before prayer was known and commented on by the Byzantines. Despite the Quranic injunction, ‘On you who believe! When you rise up to prayers, wash your faces and your hands as far as the elbows and wipe your heads and wash your feet to the ankles; and if you are under an obligation to perform a total ablution, have a bath… God does not desire to put on you any difficulty but He wishes to purify you and that he may complete His favour to you so that you may be thankful…’ (Q. 5:16) it seems that Orthodox Christians gained knowledge of this from their observations rather then from knowledge of the text of the Quran. The very public nature of the ablutions meant that even a casual witness could observe them. This knowledge could be passed on to their fellow co-religionists in the Byzantine Empire. Often the Byzantines would contrast the outward cleanliness of Muslims with their internal sinfulness.

7. Sexual Exploitation

The Quran allows Muslim men to cohabit with as many concubines as they please (Q. 23:6; 33:50-52; 70:30). Muhammad set the example by accepting a beautiful Coptic slave girl named Maryam into his harem.[20] During the prolonged wars between the Byzantines and the Caliphate many captive (Christian) women were enslaved and exploited by Muslims. This helped to create the view among Byzantines of free sexual licence among Muslims.

8. Ghazis and Jihad

The Quran states, ‘Allah has bought from the believers their lives and their wealth in return for paradise; they fight in the ways of Allah, kill and get killed. This is a true promise from Him… and who fulfils His promise better than Allah? Rejoice then at the bargain you have made with Him; for that is the great triumph.’ (Q. 9:111) The Islamic armies of the seventh century dislodged the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire. From that point, the Islamic threat loomed large for Byzantines. During the eighth and ninth centuries the armies of the caliphate made annual raids into Byzantine territory. The religiously inspired ghazi warriors were a common sight in the frontier regions. It was only natural that the Byzantines came to associate Islam with violence because of this. This would have been in stark contrast to Orthodox view of warfare. The Byzantines never created the concept of ‘crusade’ as developed in the west. For the Byzantines, war was a necessary evil for the survival of the state. It was not sanctioned by Jesus, the Apostles or the Church Fathers. The average layman for cleric would have been unaware of the Quranic verses encouraging jihad but would have presumed that Islam encouraged the practise of raiding. The difference between the peacefulness of Jesus and the violence of Muhammad could not have been greater in the mind of a Byzantine Christian. They could not see that the same God could sanction Muhammad’s aggression after the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

9. Iconoclasm

Muslims rejected any type of human representation in their Mosques or public buildings, while Byzantine Christians held icons up for religious devotion. The cross especially came up as a point of conflict as the Pact of Umar forbad Christians from displaying it in public.

10. The Hajj and the Kaaba/Black Stone 

Muslims claim that the Kaaba was a shrine built by Abraham and that the pilgrimage to Mecca is an important element of Islam. The Quran states ‘Verily! The first house (of worship) appointed for mankind was that at Mecca, a blessed place, a guidance to the peoples’ (Q. 3:96). Byzantine authors did not believe this for a minute. They stated that these practices originated in Arabian paganism. The Arab veneration of stones was well known to Greek authors. Even a modern critic of Islam (and ex-Muslim) like Ibn Warraq can claim in all confidence that these practices were derived from paganism.[21] The Byzantine accusations do not seem to be as ludicrous as it may appear at first.



1. Jesus as a prophet and servant

The Quran is emphatic on the status of Jesus as a servant, Apostle of God and prophet and even more emphatic in its denial of his divinity.[22] Jesus is mentioned twenty-five times in the Quran and is even called ‘Messiah’ on a number of occasions. This point was at the heart of Byzantine polemics as the divinity of Jesus loomed large in Orthodox Christology after the Arian disputes of the fourth century.

2. Denial of the Trinity

There are three verses in two suras that directly attack the Christian understanding of a Triune God. ‘They are ‘Believe therefore in God and His Apostles, and say not, “three.”’ (Q. 4:169), ‘They misbelieve who say, “Verily God is a third of three.” … the Messiah, the son of Mary, is only a prophet, … and his mother was a confessor, they both ate food’ (Q. 5:77) and ‘And when God shall say, “O Jesus son of Mary hast thou said unto mankind, ‘Take me and my mother as two Gods besides God?’” (Q. 5:116).[23]

3. Status of Mary

The Quranic affirmation (Q. 19:16-21; 3:37-45) of the Virgin Birth was well known to Christians. Also known was the claim that Mary was the daughter of Amran and the sister of Moses and Aaron. For Christians it was clear that Muhammad had confused Miriam, the sister of Moses, with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

4. Denial of the Crucifixion

The Quran claims that Jesus was not crucified[24]: ‘Yet they slew him not, and they crucified him not, but they had only his likeness’ (Q. 4:155-56). This was one of the most widespread Islamic beliefs that Christianity had to confront. This was a fundamental difference as it could not be reconciled with the New Testament accounts of the crucifixion. Either the Quran or New Testament had to be mistaken.



1. Authorship and Compilation

The Quran was not compiled until after Muhammad had died. Bukhari has a tradition that the Caliph Abu Bakr tasked Zayd ibn Thabit to collect the Quran at the instigation of Umar because numerous Quran reciters had died at the battle of Yamamah in 633.[25] The collection remained in the hands of Hafsa, daughter of Abu Bakr until the reign of Uthman when it was used as the official codex. Rival versions were ordered to be burnt. Later more changes were made under Hajjaj, Umayyad Governor of Iraq, in which versions of the Quran and other early Islamic literature were destroyed.[26] Despite the Muslim insistence on the divine origin and immutability of the Quran, the Byzantines were well aware of its worldly origins. Often they used this information to counter the Muslim polemic against the Christian Scriptures.

1. Genre of the Quran

The Quran did not conform to the traditional genres of Biblical literature. It was neither historical, prophetic or wisdom. The disjointed and seemingly random nature of the Quran, commented on even today, convinced Byzantine theologians that it could not be divinely inspired.

2. Allegation of the Corruption of Christian Scriptures

The Quran makes a number of ambiguous statements about the Torah and the Gospels. Some seem positive like ‘He has verily revealed to you this Book, in truth and confirmation of the Books revealed before, as indeed He had revealed the Torah and Gospel’ (Quran 3:3). Initially it seems that early Muslims understood that Christians and Jews misunderstood their own Scriptures but the text was sound. However, Muslims quickly learned that Muhammad was not foretold in the Scriptures and that episodes in both the Old and New Testaments contradicted Islam. Then the claim was made that Jews and Christians had corrupted their Scriptures. The extent of the corruption was often a cause of dispute among Muslims but it was claimed by most Muslim theologians that it had occurred to some extent. The fact that the main proof text of each religion, the Bible and the Quran, was not accepted completely by each side caused this to be a singularly important point in any religious dispute as they were scripturally based religions.[27] Byzantine Christians constantly defended the truth of the Gospels while simultaneously disparaging the Quran, while Muslims asserted the truthfulness of the Quran against the Bible. Since proof texting was difficult and generally pointless Christians began to use Aristotelian logic in their arguments against Islam. As the Quran became more accessible Christian theologians used Quranic verses that seemed to support Christian positions. Similarly, Muslims used logic and Bible verses that supported Islam. The supposed prophesies in the Bible relating to the advent of Muhammad are the best examples.

3. Proof Texts

The Quran implies that the Bible predicted the coming of Muhammad and that Christians and Jews had either deleted or misunderstood these prophecies. The result was a constant dispute over the meaning of certain key verses. For example, in Ibn Ishaq’s biography he quotes the Paraclete verse from John’s Gospel (John 15:23 ff) as a prophecy for Muhammad.[28] This verse remained a constant source of conflict between Christians and Muslims for the duration of the Byzantine Empire.[29]

4. Versions of Old Testament Stories and Contradictions

The Quran has versions of stories that do not tally with accounts in the Bible. For example the Quran has a character named Haman (Suras 28:38, 29: 39-40, 40:28)[30] as the minister of Pharaoh under Moses. Muhammad seems to have confused the minister of the Persian King in Esther 3:1 with an unnamed minister to the Pharaoh mentioned in Exodus 7:11 under the terms ‘wise men and magicians’. The Quran presumes the Pharaoh had a chief minister at the time of Moses even though this is not mentioned in the Exodus account.

There was also the problem of prophets and personages mentioned in the Quran, such as Luqman (Q. 31:12), Khidhr (Q. 18:65-82) and Dhu’l Qarnain (Q. 18:81-98) that were non-Biblical.

5. Depictions of Paradise

Almost as well known as the Christological sections of the Quran to the Byzantines were the references to heaven (or paradise). Byzantines often failed to distinguish between the Quranic references and later popular embellishments but it seems that this was common among the general Muslim population. The Quranic depiction of heaven is that of a garden wherein inhabitants enjoy shade, fruits, cool drinks, wine and meat as they desire; they recline on couches adorned with armlets of gold and pearls, wearing green and gold robes of embroidered silk, and are waited on by servants. Male inhabitants of the garden are to enjoy the company of beautiful dark-eyed companions (houris) (Q. 55:46-78; 44:54). Some Islamic commentators interpret the verses on Paradise in purely symbolic terms.[31] But the Byzantines always understood that the Muslims accepted heaven in very carnal terms.



1. The Caliphs

As both political and religious leaders, the caliphs were open to attack for their behaviour as rulers of an empire. They were often portrayed as sensuous, greedy and violent by Byzantine polemicists. The violent deaths of three of the first four caliphs was noted by Byzantine historians and the frequency of the fratricidal Muslim conflicts was also known. The martyrdom of Husayn and the massacre of the Alids (or proto-Shi’ites) at Karbala was also common knowledge. Even the massacre of the Umayyad family at the hands of the Abbasids did not go unnoticed.

2. Allegations of Polytheism

Byzantine theologians liked to turn the tables on Muslims by claiming that they were the ones who were secretly pagans. Islam was seen as a mixture of Judaism, (heretical) Christianity and Arab paganism. Muhammad was often accused of accepting pagan elements into Islam to make it more palatable for Arabs.

3. Allegations of Idolatry

As the inheritors of the Classical tradition, Byzantines were informed of pre-Islamic religion and culture. Herodotus and Strabo had both claimed that Arabs worshiped stones (litholatory), so the Black Stone was seen as a continuation of this under the guise of Islam. It was common in their refutations to throw the charges of idolatry back at Muslims.

4. Religious Divisions

Serious religious divisions racked Islam, like Christianity. The Byzantines were well informed of this and used it to prove the falseness of Islam. Muslims were equally well informed of the divisions within Christianity. The Monophysites of Syria (Jacobites), Egypt (Copts) and Armenia were all within direct Muslim rule while the Nestorians were numerous in the provinces of the former Persian Empire. All these groups contributed to the intellectual ferment of the early Islamic world. The Byzantines were allies to the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt.


Byzantine Sources

Historians and Chroniclers

Byzantine historians, unlike their counterparts in Western Europe, were often drawn from secular society rather than monastic circles. Even the historians drawn from the ranks of the clergy tended to join the priesthood or adopt the monastic life late in life, having been secular administrators, teachers or officials in their formative years. Due to the turmoil of the 7th and 8th centuries there was a break in the Byzantine historiographic tradition. No historian from the period survives and there seems to have been very little actually written in any literary genre. The struggle to survive the onslaught of the caliphate, which resulted in two massive sieges of Constantinople, meant that scare resources were focused on areas other than literature. The writing of history only re-emerged with Nikephoros and Theophanes. Thus the formative centuries of Islam do not have any contemporary Byzantine historian. From that point on there was a continuous tradition to the fall of Constantinople and the end of the Byzantine Empire. Islam impacted the Byzantine Empire for the entire length of this period. Sometimes the empire was stable like in the 9th century and 11th and 12th centuries, sometimes it was on the offensive like the 10th century and sometimes it was in sharp decline like the 14th and 15th centuries. The historians were mainly concerned with the political clash between the two civilizations rather than religious digressions.


Patriarch Nikephoros of Constantinople – Breviarium (Short History)

Nikephoros was born in Constantinople around 750 A.D. and went into exile to Nicaea with his father due to the latter’s veneration of icons under the iconoclastic emperor Constantine V. After the restoration of icons, Nikephoros served as a secretary to the Empress Irene and her son, the Emperor Constantine VI. However, he went into voluntary monastic retirement when Irene seized the throne and deposed Constantine. At the Seventh Ecumenical Council, in 787, Nikephoros participated as a monk by reading a Greek translation of a papal letter.  In 802, Nikephoros returned to Constantinople as director of the largest poorhouse in the city. After the death of Patriarch Tarasios in 806, the new emperor, Nikephoros I, appointed him patriarch. As Patriarch of Constantinople, Nikephoros I supported icon veneration, and continued to hold the position of patriarch until 815, when the emperor died. The new iconoclastic emperor, Leo, forced Nikephoros to resign and go into exile and appointed a more compliant candidate in his place. Nikephoros spent his remaining years writing a number of anti-iconoclastic works and died around 828.[32]

The Short History (Breviarium) is a concise history of the years 602-769 based on earlier sources that Nikephoros abbreviates substantially. It was probably composed when Nikephoros was a young man, sometime between 775-797.[33] It appears that there were two drafts, the first concluding in 713.[34] The second version extended the chronicle and revised the language in a more literary style. Nikephoros is concerned with the conduct of the emperors and their foreign wars. As a staunch Orthodox Christian Nikephoros does not hesitate to condemn heretical emperors or those he sees as enemies of the faith. Since the Short History concludes in 769, when Nikephoros was a relatively young man, he is entirely dependent on existing sources. The period between 600 to 800 is not well represented in primary historical sources and the Short History is a witness to the revival of the Byzantine historiographic tradition. Nikephoros issued a second edition of the Short History later in life, but the changes were stylistic rather than content based.

The brevity of the Short History did not allow Nikephoros the opportunity for an excursus on the Arabs, their religion, or an elaboration on their motives for attacking the Byzantine Empire that a full history might have provided. The Short History is a compendium of events with little room for comment by the author but his selection of incidents is informative. As head of the Byzantine church Nikephoros would probably have had an awareness of Islam as a religion or at least had access to those who had detailed knowledge on the topic but there is little indication of this in his history.[35] Either Nikephoros was unaware of Islam’s monotheistic claims, or he simply did not believe.

Nikephoros usually refers to the Arabs as Saracens and in only one place does he refer to their religion specifically. Nikephoros knows that Yathrib (later named Medina) is a place in Arabia and the location where the Saracens ‘… began to appear’ (Breviarium 18)[36] but does not ascribe the place any religious significance. When recounting the negotiations surrounding the surrender of Alexandria he explicitly calls the leader of the Muslims in Egypt Amr (Ambros) a ‘pagan,[37] an enemy of God and an opponent of the Christians.’ (Breviarium 26)[38] The comment implies that other Saracens are equally pagan if their leader is so designated. Even as a young bureaucrat, Nikephoros would have heard of the monotheism of the Saracens but he chooses to ignore or deny this. Nikephoros never mentions the names of Muhammad, the name Muslim or the Quran.

Nikephoros recounts the military clashes between the Byzantines and the Arabs and the impact they had on the civilian population. His readers would automatically understand that the Saracens were aggressors. They were invading the territory of the Byzantine Empire. He recounts the two sieges of Constantinople and other Arab incursions into Byzantine territory including the usual sacking of cities, enslavement of the population, and massacring of civilians. When the Arabs attacked Tyana they massacred the peasant auxiliaries called up by the emperor even though they are unarmed and then proceed to Chrysopolis where they massacre the local population and burn their boats. (Breviarium 44)[39] In the account of the second siege he states ‘the enemy was able to overrun the Roman State with impunity and to cause much slaughter, abduction and the capture of cities.’ (Breviarium 52)[40]

In his account the Arabs are portrayed in the same way as the other barbarian tribes swarming around the empire in the 7th and 8th centuries, like the Avars. The barbarity of the Saracens is illustrated by the brief but irrelevant anecdote on the early Arab conquest of Palestine where they capture a Roman general named Sergius and put him to death by sewing him up in a camel skin. (Breviarium 20)[41] The story is unlikely but illustrates the oriental barbarity of the Arabs. Nikephoros might as well have been referring to the pre-Islamic Arabs rather than a new religious phenomenon. It is plain that he sees the Arabs as cruel and violent and that Christians are their specific targets. There is a curious episode where Kyros, Patriarch of Alexandria, makes an agreement with Ambros to pay him tribute. He requests the emperor to send him a daughter for Ambros to marry in the hope of him becoming a Christian. The emperor refuses the request and the negotiations come to nothing. (Breviarium 23)[42] The episode might or might not be historical but the sequence plays out like the negotiations between the Byzantines and any other barbarian tribe. This suggests that Nikephorus did not see the Arabs as distinctive from other non-Christian groups that were attacking the empire.


Theophanes the Confessor – Chronicle

Theophanes was born in Constantinople around 760 to a strategos (general) of the Theme (a Byzantine province) of the Aegean Sea named Isaac. As indicated by his father’s rank Theophanes came from the highest strata of Byzantine society. As a young man Theophanes married and joined the imperial court but after a while, he along with his wife, decided to abandon secular life and adopt the monastic habit, much to the displeasure of Leo V, the emperor, who was his godfather. Due to his outspoken criticism of Leo’s iconoclastic policy Theophanes was exiled to the island of Samothrace. Theophanes was given the name ‘confessor’ and canonised by the Orthodox Church for his suffering at the hands of the iconoclasts.[43] After a long illness Theophanes died in 818.

The Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor is a strictly annalistic work covering the years 285–813. The Chronicle is a continuation of that of George Synkellos who wrote a universal chronicle from the creation of the world to 284 but he died before he could complete it. Theophanes had access to the notes that George had gathered, including a Greek translation of the lost chronicle of Theophilus of Edessa. As a result, Theophanes is well informed about events in the east. The chronicle was seen as such an important historical source that the Papal librarian, Anastasius Bibliothecarius in 875, translated it into Latin. The rubric of the chronicle has dates from the beginning of creation, the five patriarchs that were in power in the various Sees, the Byzantine emperor and the king of the Persians (later the Islamic caliph).

Theophanes includes a brief account of Muhammad, which was widely disseminated in the Byzantine world. It is a mixture of authentic and confused information.

In this year died Muhammad, the leader and false prophet of the Saracens, after appointing his kinsman Abu Bakr to his chieftainship. At the same time his repute spread abroad and everyone was frightened. At the beginning of his advent the misguided Jews thought he was the Messiah who is awaited by them, so that some of their leaders joined him and accepted his religion while forsaking that of Moses, who saw God. Those who did so were ten in number, and they remained with him until his murder. But when they saw him eating camel meat, they realised that he was not the one they thought him to be, and were at a loss what to do; being afraid to abjure his religion, those wretched men taught him illicit things directed against us, Christians, and remained with him.

I consider it necessary to give an account of this man’s origins. He was descended from a very widespread tribe, that of Ishmael, son of Abraham; for Nizaros, descendant of Ishmael, is recognised as the father of them all. He begot two sons, Moudaros and Rabias. Moudaros begot Kourasos, Kaisos, Themimes, Asados and others unknown. All of them dwelt in the Midianite desert and kept cattle, themselves living in tents. There are also those farther away who are not of their tribe, but of that of Lektan, the so-called Amanites, that is Himerites. And some of them traded on their camels. Being destitute and an orphan, the aforesaid Muhammad decided to enter the service of a rich woman who was a relative of his, called Khandija[44], as a hired worker with a view to trading by camel in Egypt and Palestine. Little by little he became bolder and ingratiated himself with that woman, who was a widow, took her as a wife, and gained possession of her camels and her substance. Whenever he came to Palestine he consorted with Jews and Christians and sought from them certain scriptural matters. He was also afflicted with epilepsy. When his wife became aware of this, she was greatly distressed, inasmuch as she, a noblewoman, had married a man such as he, who was not only poor, but also an epileptic. He tried deceitfully to placate her by saying, ‘I keep seeing a vision of a certain angel called Gabriel, and being unable to bear his sight, I faint and fall down’.

Now, she had a certain monk living there, a friend of hers (who had been exiled for his depraved doctrine), and she related everything to him, including the angel’s name. Wishing to satisfy her, he said to her, ‘He has spoken the truth, for this is the angel who is sent to all the prophets.’ When she had heard the words of the false monk she was the first to believe in Muhammad and proclaim to other women of her tribe that he was a prophet. Thus, the report spread from women to men, and first to Abu Bakr, whom he left as his successor. This heresy prevailed in the region of Ethribos, in the last resort by war: at first secretly, for ten years, and by war another ten, and openly nine.

He taught his subjects that he who kills an enemy or is killed by an enemy goes to Paradise; and he said that this paradise was one of carnal eating and drinking and intercourse with women, and had a river of wine, honey and milk, and that the women were not like the ones down here, but different ones, and that the intercourse was long-lasting and the pleasure continuous; and other things full of stupidity. Also, that men should feel sympathy for one another and help those who are wronged. (From the Year 6122 (629/630 AD).[45]

Theophanes includes some basic facts about Muhammad; his descent from an Arab tribe, his occupation as a camel-driver, his marriage and claims to prophethood. Waraqa,[46] Khadija’s cousin and a Christian who is supposed to have confirmed Muhammad’s divine mission, is turned into a depraved exiled monk. Muhammad’s career is expanded to 29 years rather than the traditional 23 years. Some of the errors include the mistake that Muhammad was murdered and that Jews recognized him as the Messiah. Muhammad’s murder probably owes its origin to the story that Muhammad was poisoned by a Jewess from Khaybar. It might have been circulated by Muslims to explain why Muhammad had died at the relatively young age of 63. Sanctity was linked with longevity. Theophanes picked up the story. The account of the Jews owed its origin to a number of early Muslim converts from Judaism. Byzantines viewed the Jews as inordinate enemies of the Christians so their role in the advent of Islam would not have surprised them. The Muslim concept of heaven captured Theophanes attention. He explicitly calls it ‘stupidity’, especially the idea of food, drink, houris and long lasting sex. The concept of brotherhood is the only positive doctrine that Theophanes mentions in his very negative account.

Later in the Chronicle Theophanes recounts the martyrdom of a certain Peter under the heading of the year 742. This Peter had worked closely with Muslims and even considered them his friends. Thinking he was on his death bed he decided to say the things he would never say under normal circumstances. He cursed Muhammad and the Quran, which he termed ‘fables.’ Obviously despite his cordial relations with Muslims Peter was not impressed in the slightest about Muhammad. Unfortunately Peter recovered his illness and was executed. Theophanes’ account of the incident is as follows:

Peter of Maiouma [the port of Gaza] proved a voluntary martyr on behalf of Christ. Having fallen ill, he invited the prominent Arabs who were his friends – for he served as chartulary of the public taxes – and said to them: “May you receive from God the recompense for visiting me, even if you happen to be infidel friends. I wish you, however, to witness this my will: anyone who does not believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the consubstantial and life-giving Trinity within a unity, is spiritually blind and deserving of eternal punishment. Such a one was Muhammad, your false prophet of the Antichrist. If you believe me as I testify to you today by heaven and earth – for I am your friend – abandon his fables, that you may not be punished along with him.” When they had heard him utter these and many other words about God, they were seized by astonishment and fury, but decided to be patient, thinking he was out of his mind on account of his illness. After he had recovered from his illness, however, he started to cry out even louder: “Anathema on Muhammad and his fables and on everyone who believes in them!” Thereupon he was chastised with the sword and so became a martyr. (Listed under the Year 6234).[47]

This evidence indicates that there must have been a great divide between what Christians were thinking privately and the public discourse they gave to their Muslim overlords. It was only the fear of death that prevented Christians from openly expressing their opinions. The polemics written within the bounds of the Caliphate are much milder than those in Byzantine territory. The difference is not so much as a difference between Syriac and Greek writers but rather what they could get away with. Greek writers are much more willing to criticize Muhammad in the most abusive terms than their Syriac counterparts because they lived safely in the territory of the Byzantine Empire.

Theophanes recounts the incident of the Muslim attack on the village of Mu’ta. This battle was fought around 629 and resulted in a Muslim defeat but Theophanes places it in the wrong year, after the death of Muhammad. It became famous in Islamic historiography and was greatly exaggerated and manipulated. Khalid later became a military hero and was rehabilitated. The account in Theophanes indicates that he had access to Islamic traditions.[48] The mention of the Muslims ‘intending to fall upon the [Christian] Arabs on the day they sacrificed to their idols’[49] is obviously from an Islamic perspective, describing the celebration of a Christian feast day.

Theophanes’ eastern source serves him well with some accurate information on early Islamic political history. He knows that a ‘Persian apostate who found him in prayer and pierced his stomach with a sword’ assassinated Umar[50], that rebellious Arabs assassinated Uthman and that there was discord between factions that supported Ali and Muawiya.[51] Theophanes is aware that Ali was also assassinated after the battle of Siffin and that Muawiya won the civil war and established his residence at Damascus.[52] Theophanes is aware that the Kharijites were a religious faction as he specifically calls them a ‘heresy.’ He has no information about their beliefs but recounts their defeat by Muawiya. He mentions the pro-Shi’ite rebellion of Mukhtar at Kufa in 684 but does not link it to Alid claims. That the rebellion had religious overtones is clear when Theophanes reports that Mukhtar ‘called himself a prophet.’[53] He knows of the anti-Umayyad rebellion of Abdallah ibn al-Zubair but thinks it was at Yathrib (Medina) rather than Mecca. Theophanes does not seem to know about Mecca as he fails to mention it in his summary of Muhammad’s career in the year 6122.


Joseph Genesios – History of the Reigns of the Emperors

The biography of Genesios is very sparse. A historian by the name of Joseph Genesios is mentioned in the preamble of the chronicler Skylitzes and the surviving text is ascribed to him in a marginal note even though the single surviving manuscript is anonymous. Genesios flourished (944-959 A.D.) during the reign of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, whose grandfather was Basil I.[54] There are indications that his family might have had Armenian ancestry.[55]

The History of the Reigns of the Emperors covers the reigns of Leo V, Michael II, Theophilus, Michael III and Basil I (the years 813-886) in four books. The history continues the Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor but does not retain its annalistic structure.[56] It is strongly pro-Macedonian in its views. Basil I had murdered Emperor Michael III and assumed the throne. Genesios disparages the memory of Michael in favour of Basil I, whose dynasty was still reigning in the mid tenth century. Some modern commentators have even seen the history as the ‘official’ history of the birth of the Macedonian Dynasty.

Genesios uses conventional terms to refer the Arab Muslim enemies of the Byzantine Empire. They are generally referred to as Hagarenes, Saracens and Ishmaelites. Genesios is generally neutral in his accounts of military conflict between the Abbasid Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire and religious differences rarely enter into the narrative. Vilifying epitaphs rarely appear with only one reference to Muslims as ‘impious.’ (On the Reigns IV.13)[57] However, this is merely a traditional literary convention. Even when the opportunity arises to include religion Genesios passes over the incidents in silence. The account of the Persian defector Theophobos and the account of Manuel’s defection to the Arabs are opportunities that Genesios neglects.

The mid-ninth century included a number of military disasters for the Byzantine Empire. The most spectacular were the fall of Crete, the sacking of Amorion, and the capture of Syracuse in Sicily. Genesios was well informed about the Spanish Muslim takeover of Crete between 824/27. The Muslim pirates are said to have ‘enslaved’ 28 Cretan cities (one surrendered and was given special privileges). The martyrdom of the metropolitan of Crete is expressed in specifically religious terms ‘Cyril, the Bishop of the city of Gortyna, was slaughtered like an unblemished sacrificial lamb for his faith in Christ’ (On the Reigns II.10-11).[58] The capture of Amorion in 838, by the Abbasid caliph al-Mu’tasim, resulted in the death or enslavement of thousands of prisoners and, in 845, the execution of 42 officers on the banks of the Euphrates. This was the major military disaster during the reign of Theophilus. The caliph refuses peace with Theophilus, despite promises of great gifts, because he senses the weakness of the Byzantine military. Rather than giving a detailed account of the sacking of Amorion Genesios purposely gives a brief account. He mentions the fate of the captured officers, ‘All the generals were once led away to Syrian captivity, among whom were Patrikioi and dignitaries who shared the same fate. Some of them were decapitated and thus became victims worthy of lamentation.’ (On the Reigns III.11)[59] By the 10th century there were numerous hagiographic accounts of the 42 Martyrs of Amorion in circulation so, perhaps, Genesios did not see the need to elaborate further. The caliph is called a ‘new Sennacherib’, the destroyer of the kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament. The Byzantines are obviously the Jews (the ones favoured by God) thus bringing a distinctly religious symbolism to the defeat. The final military defeat was the fall of Syracuse. Genesios repeats a report given to a Byzantine general named Adrianos with the report that the city was ‘filled by the Christian blood spilt there.’ (On the Reigns IV.33)[60] Adrianos had been confined to the Peloponnesian port of Hierax due to bad weather with a large fleet assigned to relieve Syracuse from the Arab siege. After the news was confirmed Adrianos returned to Constantinople and sought asylum in a church begging for forgiveness.

Genesios has little time for religious reflection. His history is unashamedly secular in its outlook. Arabs are a dangerous enemy, with whom there is little room for sympathy, understanding or compromise. The term ‘Christians’ for Genesios is a synonym for ‘Romans’ and is not indicative of the enemy having a rival religious system in itself but the undertone of the history is primarily a clash between the two peoples (Romans and Arabs) but not the two religions (Christian and Muslim).


Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus – De Administrando Imperio

Constantine was the son of the emperor Leo VI and his fourth wife, Zoë Karbonopsina. He was born in 905 but was excluded from power for nearly forty years by a succession of regents who took control of government after Leo died in 912 and Constantine was in his infancy. The admiral Romanos I held government for twenty years but was deposed by his sons, who in turn were deposed by the supporters of the legitimate dynasty. Constantine assumed power in his own right in 945 and continued until his death in 959. He fought a number of moderately unsuccessful wars against Muslim powers including a failed attempt to recapture Crete in 949 and campaigns over the Euphrates between 952-958.[61]

For much of his life Constantine was excluded from power so he devoted himself to scholarship and gathered around him a circle of educated men. They produced a series of encyclopaedic works on diplomacy, history and biography, including an untitled work on foreign policy and ethnography that was given the modern title De Administrando Imperio. The work is based on earlier sources and covers the range of the empire’s enemies. The section on Islam depends heavily on the chronicle of Theophanes but also includes some independent information. The document was meant only for the highest ranks of the civil administration and was meant to be a practical guide in diplomacy.[62] As a result the information needed to be as accurate as possible so ambassadors could familiarise themselves with the political situation.

Constantine has excellent knowledge of political Islam such as the succession of caliphs and the sectarian splits within Islam but he knows little about Islam as a religion. Most of the information is taken directly from the Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor and quoted verbatim. Constantine begins his account with a brief biography of the prophet Muhammad. It is worth quoting the text in full:

The blasphemous and obscene Mahomet, whom the Saracens claim for their prophet, traces his genealogy from the most widespread race of Ishmael, son of Abraham. For Nizaros, the descendant of Ishmael, is proclaimed the father of them all. Now he begat two sons, Moundaros and Rabias, and Moundaros begat Kousaros and Kaisos and Themimes and Asandos and various others whose names are unknown, who were allotted the Madianite desert and reared their flocks, dwelling in tents. And there are others further off in the interior who are not of the same tribe, but of Iektan, the so-called Homerites, that is, Amanites. And the story is published abroad thus. This Mahomet, being destitute and an orphan, thought fit to hire himself out to a certain wealthy woman, his relative, Chadiga by name[63], to tend her camels and to trade for her in Egypt among the foreigners and in Palestine. Thereafter by little and little he grew more and more free in converse and ingratiated himself with the woman, who was a widow, and took her to wife. Now, during his visits to Palestine and intercourse with Jews and Christians he used to follow up certain of their doctrines and interpretations of scripture. But as he had the disease the epilepsy, his wife, a noble and wealthy lady, was greatly cast down at being united to this man, who was not only destitute but an epileptic into the bargain, and so he deceived her by alleging: ‘I behold a dreadful vision of an angel called Gabriel, and being unable to endure his sight, I faint and fall’; and he was believed by a certain Arian, who pretended to be a monk, testified falsely in his support for love and gain. The woman being in this manner imposed on and proclaiming to other women of her tribe that he was a prophet, the lying fraud reached also the ears of a head-man whose name was Boubachar (Abu Bakr). Well, the woman died and left her husband behind to succeed her and to be heir of her estate, and he became a notable and very wealthy man, and his wicked imposture and heresy took hold on the district of Ethribos (Yathrib). And the crazy and deluded fellow taught those who believed on him, that he who slays an enemy or is slain by an enemy enters into paradise, and all the rest of his nonsense. And they pray, moreover, to the star of Aphrodite, which they call Koubar, and in their supplication cry out: ‘Alla wa Koubar’, that is, ‘God and Aphrodite’. For they call God ‘Alla’, and ‘wa’ they use as the conjunction ‘and’, and they call the star ‘Koubar’, and so they say ‘Alla wa Koubar.’ (De Administrando Imperio 14)[64]

There are a number of things that Constantine Porphyrogenitus gets correct about Muhammad’s biography. He knows that Muhammad was an orphan, that he married a rich widow for whom he worked for as a merchant. He knows that Muhammad claimed to have received revelations from the archangel Gabriel and that he preached as a prophet to his followers. The city of Yathrib (later named Medina) is named as a place where Islam took hold. The idea that a Muslim who dies for his faith or is killed fighting will go to paradise is also an authentic Islamic belief. The call to prayer is authentic but the words used are mistranslated and misunderstood. Constantine is a firm believer in the crypto-paganism of Islam as indicated by his translation of the takbir.

Constantine is writing a polemic so he tailors his information to present Muhammad in the worst possible light. The visions are attributed to epilepsy and Muhammad is specifically called a ‘lying fraud’ and ‘crazy.’ The mention of the ‘Arian’ monk describes Byzantine perceptions of the origins of Islamic Christology in the tradition of John of Damascus.

Constantine has more information on Muslim political history. He is aware of the succession of caliphs and correctly names Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman. He is aware that Abu Bakr is related to Muhammad but does not elaborate on this. He gives approximately correct dates for their reigns. He also recounts the incident of Umar going to Jerusalem, meeting Sophronius, accepting the surrender of the city and building a mosque on the remains of the Temple of Solomon. (De Administrando Imperio 17-20) There is a difference from the traditional numbering of caliphs as Constantine counts Muhammad as the first chief of the Arabs. This implies that he views Muhammad in political, not religious, terms. Ali is not included in Constantine’s succession list but goes to Muawiya with the statement ‘This Muawiya also made an expedition against Constantinople … and after the death of Uthman was fifth chief of the Arabs for twenty-four years.’[65] Later Constantine gives a brief account of the civil war between Muawiya and Ali. The account of the civil war follows the usual Muslim outline, even the story of the arbitration at Siffin but gets mixed up as Constantine thinks Ali’s sons died in the civil war soon after their father’s death (De Administrando Imperio 21). The disputed reign of Ali is probably not counted, as it was never accepted in Syria where Muawiya was ruling as governor in Damascus. In his account of Muawiya Constantine seems to have used an anti-Umayyad source as he says that the Umayyad arbitrator at Siffin ‘was devout only in appearance, but in all else deceitful and arrogant and surpassing all men in mischief.’[66]

Finally, Constantine accurately describes the division of the Islamic world of the 10th century as being the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad, the Fatimid Dynasty in Egypt and the Umayyad Caliphate in Cordoba in Spain. (De Administrando Imperio 25)[67] He knows that the Fatimids claim descent from Ali and Fatima and that Fatima was the daughter of Muhammad but there is no hint that he is aware that there are underlying religious disputes (Sunnis and proto-Shi’ites) between the two groups. Constantine even makes the mistake of claiming that a warlike Arab tribe of Fatimids exists in Arabia but not related to Fatima or the Fatimids of Egypt. (De Administrando Imperio 15)[68] Initially, this seems to be a grossly stupid error but the existence of rival Shi’ite groups in Iraq and Arabia and their constant rebellions against the central authority probably account for this reference.


John Kaminiates – The Capture of Thessalonike

John Kaminiates was a cleric from Thessalonike at the beginning of the 10th century. His account of the capture of the city is his only extant work. That John was a native of Thessalonike is obvious from his sincere patriotic references.

John Kaminiates work gives an account of the siege and capture of Thessalonike in 904 by Arabs. He recounts the suffering of the population as the city was sacked and the helpless citizens were enslaved and taken into captivity. He claims to have been an eyewitness to the events he describes. Numerous detailed references point to the authenticity of the text despite some modern doubt.[69]

The horrific account of the sack of Thessalonike leaves John Kaminiates scope to portray the Muslim aggressors in the blackest terms. The people of Thessaloniki are the innocent victims of the naked aggression of a savage and merciless enemy. The Muslim pirates are usually refereed in ethnic terms as ‘barbarians’, ‘Hagarenes’ and once even ‘Ishmaelites’. Kaminiates is probably aware of the claims of Muslims to be literal descendants of Hagar. Often Kaminiates uses abusive epitaphs such as ‘accursed Hagarenes’ (Kaminiates, Capture 12)[70] and ‘cut-throats and desperadoes.’ (Kaminiates, Capture 18)[71] There is no indication that they share a common monotheistic faith with the Christians whatsoever by their conduct in warfare. That the Muslims were religiously scrupulous, however, is indicated by a number of references such as their avoidance of wine (Kaminiates, Capture 54), the observation of the Muslims at mid-day prayer (Kaminiates, Capture 55) and the use of water for their ritual ablutions. (Kaminiates, Capture 77) A vivid image that Kaminiates paints is that of the spilt wine mixing with the blood of the slain and flowing into the gutters. The wine was in the captured port waiting for export but was of no use to the Muslims so they dumped it in the streets. Kaminiates exact words are ‘On the way we met with fearful and unexpected sights. The bodies of the slain lay still dripping with blood, a gruesome spectacle, persons of every age all condemned alike to a single sentence of death by the sword and all alike bereft of burial. Wine ran in rivulets down every street, mingled with the blood of the fallen and intoxicated the ground on which the city stood.’ (Kaminiates, Capture 54)[72] After the graphic account of the slaughter of the Thessalonians, Kaminiates then proceeds to recount the suffering of the prisoners in some detail. The inhumane manner in which they are treated suggests to the reader that their captors knew little of mercy. Kaminiates says that there were 800 prisoners on a single ship and that the death toll among the infants was especially high; one of Kaminiates own infants was among the dead. ‘We were afflicted by many other unpleasant forms of constraint such as hunger and thirst and were black and blue from the overcrowding … on top of which there were the pitiful cries of infants unable to bear the full rigour of hardships whose intensity merely hastened their untimely death.’ (Kaminiates, Capture 67)[73] At a stop at Patmos there was a multitude of deaths due to lice, contaminated water and spoiled food. In all Kaminiates states that 22,000 Christians were enslaved, most of them young. (Kaminiates, Capture 73)[74]

Kaminiates saves his worst condemnation for Leo of Tripoli, the Muslim admiral in charge of the raid. Kaminiates is fully aware that Leo was a convert to Islam from Christianity so it clear that he knows Islam as a rival religious system. However, he neglects to explain that Leo was captured as a child and enslaved, only to be subsequently converted and freed by a patron. He seems to omit this information so Leo cannot be excused on account of his young age. That Kaminiates views Islam negatively is clear from his reference to Islam as ‘impiety’. He especially disapproves of Leo’s mercilessness and brutality. The link between Islam and violence is clear; either Leo was violent due to the influence of Islam or Islam was unable to moderate Leo’s savagery. It is worth quoting John Kaminiates exact words ‘He [Leo of Tripoli] was a sinister  and thoroughly evil person, who flaunted a style of behaviour singularly appropriate to the wild animal after which he was named and for whose ferocious ways and ungovernable temper he was more than a match. Assuredly, you yourself also know the man by reputation, a reputation which celebrates his wickedness with the claim that he outshone all previous paragons of impiety by descending to such depths of madness as to gaze insatiably upon the spilling of human blood and to love nothing better than the slaughter of Christians. He too was once a Christian, was reborn in the saving grace of baptism and taught the precepts of religion. But when he was taken prisoner by the barbarians, he embraced their impiety in exchange for true piety of the faith and there is no way in which he more eagerly seeks to ingratiate himself with them than by making his deeds conform to his name and by taking a particular pride in flaunting the actions of a felon and a brigand.’ (Kaminiates, Capture 24)[75] Kaminiates sees Leo’s savagery not as an exception but the rule. Leo merely outdoes his fellow Muslims in violence. 


Leo the Deacon – History

Leo was born in Kaloe in Asia Minor sometime around 950 and was educated at Constantinople, where he became a palace deacon. His History indicates that he accompanied the emperor Basil II on his Bulgarian campaign in 986.[76] Leo was one of the few ordained ecclesiastics to engage in historiography. The recent translators of Leo’s History note his pro-church stance when in conflict with imperial policy. He may have become a bishop later in his career.

The History of Leo the Deacon encompasses the years 959-976 in 10 books. Leo focuses on the reigns of Romanos II, Nikephoros II Phocus and John I Tzimiskes. It is very favourable to Nikephoros Phocus but Leo does not idealise any of his main characters. The History gives an account of the ascendant Byzantine Empire in their wars against the Arabs of Crete and Asia Minor and against the Bulgars and Russians in Europe, which for the first time in centuries, demonstrated the military superiority of the empire. That Leo was a well-educated individual is indicated by his numerous quotes from authors including classical authors like Homer and Herodotus and allusions to other historians. Leo was no religious bigot in any sense of the word despite his staunch attachment to Orthodox Christianity.

Leo has no extended discussion on Islam but he offers clear characterisation. Typical of Byzantine historians Leo refers to Muslims in ethnic terms, either as Hagarenes, Arabs or simply barbarians. Leo characterises Muslims with negative traits such as being ‘arrogant’, ‘murderous’ and ‘rash’. Leo puts a speech into the mouth of Nikephorus before the attack on Chandax in Crete in which Nikephorus states to his troops ‘I think that none of you is unaware of the cruelty and ferocity of the descendants of the maidservants, and the raids and enslavement that they have murderously perpetrated against the Romans… Isn’t it true that almost all of our coastline is uninhabited as a result of their rapine? Aren’t most of the islands deserted because of their raids? (Leo the Deacon, History I.6)[77]  The Cretan Arabs were renowned as pirates. Their brutal reputation was proverbial. The rule of the Cretan Arabs is described as a ‘tyranny’ obviously because they ruled as an Arab Muslim elite over a Greek Christian majority. Despite the intense animosity Nikephorus Phocus restrained his troops from massacring the defeated Arabs.[78]

The direct conflict between Islam and Christianity is only alluded to in Leo’s History. In the account of the capture of Tarsus, Leo specifically mentions the destruction of churches. He makes mention of the murder of Christopher, Patriarch of Antioch, who had been killed by Muslims in the city before its capture by the Byzantines. The religious aspect of the incident is stressed by Leo the Deacon. He calls Christopher ‘an apostolic and divinely inspired man’ and the ‘crime of reverence for Christ the Saviour’ being his only trespass. (Leo the Deacon, History VI.6)[79] Christopher is portrayed as blameless. There were perhaps political overtones to Christopher’s murder but, for Leo the Deacon, it is clearly a martyrdom.

There are two exceptions to Leo’s negative attitude to Muslims. The first is his rather grudging respect for Hamdan. Leo calls him ‘shrew and energetic’ and even praises him for the lack of bloodshed that some of his raids caused on Byzantine territory. Soon after this, Leo reverts to the standard accusations. The Christian inhabitants of the region inform Leo Phocus that Hamdan had caused them severe suffering. Leo Phocus ‘began to hear about Hamdan’s insolence and lack of mercy, and to see churches and villages that had been burnt, the ruins of fortresses, and the land that was deserted because of the violent abduction of its inhabitants.’ (Leo the Deacon, History II.2)[80] The conflict that Leo the Deacon then goes on to describe is, basically, a war of liberation.

The other reference is to Anemas, the son of the last Muslim Emir of Crete. Leo identifies him and singles him out for his bravery in combat. It seems that he became an imperial bodyguard. In the first instance Anemas killed the second-in-command of the Russians, who was a renowned warrior (Leo the Deacon, History XI.6); the other mentions his death after killing many Russians with the concluding remark ‘a man surpassed by no one his age in brave feats in battle.’ (Leo the Deacon, History IX.8)[81]  It is reasonable to assume that Anemas retained his Muslim religion in imperial service. The tenth century Byzantine armies had a reputation for ethnic diversity. The lack of a Christian name, which a convert would have to assume on baptism, would be conclusive in demonstrating Anemas’s religious affiliation. The praise that Leo gives Anemas is thus more remarkable.

Leo makes two references to Muhammad; the first during the siege of Chandax in Crete and the second during the Syrian campaign of Nikephorus Phocas. Both references are in passing and offer no substantial biographical information on Muhammad. Leo comments that the Cretan Arabs were very superstitious, in Leo’s own words they were ‘…addicted to divination, ribaldry and wrongful belief…’ (Leo the Deacon, History II.6).[82] Leo attributes this by name to the influence of Muhammad. The ‘wrongful belief’ indicates Islamic rejection of the incarnation, Trinity and crucifixion while the ‘ribaldry’ must refer to the Muslim sexual exploitation of women in the form of polygamy and concubinage. The other reference is to a diplomatic gift by Nikephorus Phocas to the Fatimid Caliph of a sword that was supposedly once owned by Muhammad. Byzantine armies had captured the sword on the Syrian campaign. When referring to Muhammad, Leo cannot help but give Muhammad the epitaph ‘most accursed and impious’ (Leo the Deacon, History V.1).[83] It is unclear what Leo knew of Muhammad’s biography but the reference to the sword suggests that he was aware of Muhammad’s military campaigns. In typical Byzantine fashion, this aspect of Muhammad’s career would have repulsed Leo.


Michael Psellos – Chronographia

Michael Psellos was born in Constantinople in 1018 with the baptismal name of Constantine. He made a career in the civil administration and belonged to a group of intellectuals who had hopes of exercising power at the imperial court. Psellos fell briefly out of favour and retired to Mount Olympus where he became a monk and took the monastic name of Michael. On his return to the capital Psellos became a court philosopher (or hypatos ton philosophon) and tutor to the Caesar John Doukas. Psellos was a literary polymath and author of numerous works covering a range to topics. After the disastrous reign of Michael VII, whom Psellos had tutored, he went into voluntary retirement and died in obscurity some time after 1081.

Psellos lived at a time of Byzantine military ascendency. The boundaries of the empire were relatively secure and Islam was a distant threat. His own concerns were with court life and the capital so he was little concerned with Muslims and Islam as a religion, which he never mentions. He does refer to Muslim powers in his account but only in passing. The Chronographia consists of seven books covering the years 976 -1078. Psellos’s life revolved around the imperial court and Constantinople. As a result his history is basically a series of imperial biographies.

As a courtier and secular scholar for most of his life, Islam was far removed from Psellos’s thoughts. He demonstrates no specific knowledge of Islam in his Chronographia but on the other hand he does not make any outlandishly ignorant comment either. The exact state of his knowledge is unclear. Psellos was author of a number of theological works as a layman, so the expectation is that he was knowledgeable about religion to some degree. Psellos recounts with seeming disapproval the Syrian campaign of the emperor Romanus III. He emphasises the unprovoked nature of the war in an effort for the emperor to gain fame. ‘For these  reasons, although no real pretext for war existed, he made an unprovoked assault on the Saracens…The leading generals tried to dissuade him from this offensive – they were not a little fearful of the outcome…’ (Psellos, Chronographia III.8).[84] This text suggests that Psellos was quite happy to coexist with Muslims as long as they were not aggressive towards the empire. However, later Psellos demonstrates his patriotism when he states he refused to write a humble letter to the ruler of Egypt and instead wrote that:  ‘I conveyed exactly the opposite impression by subtle allusion: what I wrote had one meaning for Constantine [the reigning emperor] and another for the Sultan. I had sly digs at the latter and hurt his dignity without being too overt (Psellos, Chronographia VI.190).[85] This reference does not strictly indicate religious sensitively but just good old-fashioned Byzantine cultural superiority.

The references to Islam in the Chronographia are meagre but as a courtier and intellectual little more could be expected of Psellos.


Anna Komnena – The Alexiad

Anna Komnena was the daughter of the emperor Alexios I Komnenos. Alexios assumed the throne in 1081 and ruled for nearly forty years. Anna was born in 1083 after her father had assumed the throne. She was originally engaged to Constantine Doukas, son of Michael VII, who was regarded as the heir to the throne. On his premature death she wed Nikephoros Bryennios. After her father’s death in 1118 she attempted to usurp the throne from her brother John but was unsuccessful and was forced to retire to a monastery although she only became a nun on her deathbed. At the monastery she was a patron of scholars and established a circle of literary men.

The Alexiad was written after 1148, more than twenty years after Alexios’ death. The history covers the forty years of Alexios’ reign, from 1081 to 1118, in fifteen books. As the title suggests the history’s focus was Alexios and is laudatory towards him. Anna was well informed on the events she describes but occasionally her biases get the better of her.

Anna Komnena was a well-educated individual and, as a historian, took care to investigate her sources but her comments on the Turks and on Islam are remarkably ignorant, especially when compared to her accurate statements on heresies.[86] Anna is aware of the person of Muhammad and mentions him is passing (Anna Comnena, Alexiad VI.13).  She knows that Muslims are circumcised but knows little else of the Islamic religion. She refers to the Turks as ‘godless’ early on in her history (Anna Comnena, Alexiad III.11) and suggests their religious allegiances are fickle when her father tempts a number of Turkish envoys on separate occasions to convert to Christianity with gifts and flattery. (Anna Comnena, Alexiad VI.9, VI.13). Anna is also unclear about the ethnic relationship of the Turks to the Arabs. On a number of occasions she refers to ‘Arabs’ when she is definitely talking about the Turks. In only one section does Anna discuss the religion of the Turks, where she makes these inadequate statements:

The Ishmaelites are indeed dominated by Dionysos and Eros; they indulge readily in every kind of sexual licence, and if they are circumcised in the flesh they are certainly not so in their passions. In fact, the Ishmaelites are nothing more than slaves – trebly slaves – of the vices of Aphrodite. Hence they reverence and worship Astarte and Ashtaroth, and in their land the figure of the moon and the golden image of Chobar are considered of major importance. (Anna Comnena, Alexiad X.5).[87]

Georgina Buckler calls this section ‘an absurd travesty of Mohammedanism.’[88] The Turks had recently swarmed into Anatolia after defeating the Byzantines at the battle of Manzikert in 1071. Anna considers the Turks to be polytheists, seemingly worshiping an ancient triad of gods and goddesses that she gained from her classical reading. Possible explanations for this strange passage include that some of the Turks entering Anatolia might still have been polytheists or semi-Islamicised or that she believed in the charge of crypto-paganism that was levelled against Islam. Also, Anna would have seen Islam as a non-monotheistic religion because of their denial of the divinity of Christ.

Anna has a low opinion of Turkish morality and the corollary of this is Islamic ethics. In keeping with Byzantine historiography Anna sees the Turks as arrogant. Her exact words are ‘…for the Turks are an arrogant people, with their heads in the clouds’ (Anna Comnena, Alexiad XV.6).[89] On receiving a letter from a Turkish sultan asking for a marriage alliance Alexius responded with laughter ‘at the Turk’s presumption, muttering, “The devil must have put that into his head”’ (Anna Comnena, Alexiad VI.12).[90]

Violence is a constant theme in Anna’s history. Anna gives a rather gruesome account of the murder of sultan Malek Shah by the assassins,[91] who Anna refers to as Chasioi, at the instigation of his brother. Anna states ‘The Chasioi delight in that sort of bloodshed; their idea of pleasure is merely plunging of a sword into human entrails. As for the future, if some other folk happen to attack them at the very same moment and cut them up into mincemeat, they regard a death as an honour, passing on these bloody deeds from one generation to another like some family heritage’. Anna Comnena, Alexiad VI.12). The mention of the gods and goddess might be Anna’s metaphors for the true sensual nature of the Turks. The Turks are lustful and addicted to drinking wine so they ‘worship’ Dionysius, the ancient Hellenic god of wine. In a number of places she comments on the habitual drunkenness of the Turks (Anna Comnena, Alexiad VI.12, IX.3, X.5, XV.1). The lustful remark may be due to the Islamic custom of polygamy and concubinage or simply the abuse of Greek women by Turkish invaders, who would have considered the Christian women infidels and consequently taken sexual advantage of them. The mention of the ‘vices of Aphrodite’, the ancient Hellenic goddess of love, obviously refers to sexual excesses. The golden image of Chabor is perhaps a garbled reference to the black stone in the Kaaba in Mecca mixed with the story of the Golden calf in the Old Testament. Perhaps Anna is trying to show that the Muslims are just old-fashioned idolaters.


John Kinnamos – The Deeds of John and Manuel Komnenos

John Kinnamos was a minor bureaucrat in the service of Emperor Manuel Komnenos. He was born before 1143 and died some time after 1185. Little else is known about him. His broad education is implied by his imperial service. He appears briefly in the contemporary History of Niketas Chionates in an episode where Kinnamos and Euthymius, Metropolitan of Neai Patrai, argue a point of theology in the emperor’s tent and are threatened by him.[92] This incident took place under the Emperor Andronikos Angelus.

His history covers the years 1118-76 in seven brief books, the reigns of John and Manuel Komnenos, but breaks off at the end before the account of the battle of Myrokephalion and the end of Manuel’s reign. Kinnamos is highly disposed towards Manuel but his account is generally reliable and sober. The history only survives in a single manuscript. Niketas Chionates used it in his own historical work without acknowledgement. All this suggests that the work only enjoyed a limited circulation.

Despite the indication that Kinnamos enjoyed a theological discussion there is little in the way of discussion on Islam. The only indication of the belief of the Turks is a passing reference to the Khazars who had migrated into Hungary. Kinnamos, who refers to them as Chalisioi, mentions that they follow the Mosaic Law. Later he states again ‘…they are heterodox, agreeing with the Turks’ (Deeds V.16).[93] This indicates that not only Kinnamos but also his readers were perfectly aware of the Mosaic nature of Islam and the role that Moses played in their theology. Kinnamos is well informed of the political realities of the 12th century and names the rulers of the various Turkish emirates that were in conflict with Byzantium. He names Danishmend and Muhammad (Deeds I.6), Mas’ud of Ikonion (Deeds II.5), Suleiman (Deeds II.11), Yaghi-Basan (Deeds III.6), Shahan-Shah (Deeds IV.24) and Kilidj Arslan (Deeds V.3). Kinnamos is even aware of Nur-ad-Din in Syria, the enemy of the Crusaders and sometime Byzantine ally (Deeds IV.21).

His accounts of the numerous battles between the Byzantines and the Turks are very conventual, similar to the battles between the Byzantines and the Hungarians that were occurring at the same time. In places where a remark would be expected Kinnamos remains reluctant to give his own judgement. Kinnamos attributes the aggressiveness of the Turks to purely materialistic motives rather than religious. ‘For the barbarians suffer in no respect so much as in loss of money and goods’ (Deeds IV.23).[94] He either is unaware of the Islamic idea of Jihad or thinks that the religious motives are secondary to simple greed. Kinnamos is aware that Egypt was once part of the Byzantine Empire and explains that it was detached ‘when Asia was severely afflicted and the Arabic people prevailed for the moment, it too was taken and fell under the sway of the Easterners.’ (Deeds VI.9) [95]

On a number of occasions Kinnamos mentions by name Turks who were raised by the Romans (Byzantines) or were in Byzantine service. Specifically named are John Axouchos (Deeds I.2), Prosouch (Deeds II.14), Ishaq (Deeds III.18), Bairam (Deeds IV.13), John Ises (Deeds V.13) and Michael (previously Ishaq) (Deeds VII.3). The phrase ‘Roman upbringing and education’ is elusive but is does imply a conversion to Christianity, especially when a Christian name is given in the cases of John Ises and Michael. All this Kinnamos passes over without comment as to the positive benefits of imperial service and conversion. Perhaps Kinnamos took it for granted. There is a brief account of how Andronikos Komnenos deserted to the Turks after an affair with Theodora. Andronikos participated in raids against Byzantine territory. Kinnamos calls Andronikos ‘a wretch’ and mentions his excommunication by the church but little else. (Deeds VI.1)[96]

Kinnamos describes the devastation wrought by the Turks on the Anatolian heartland of the Byzantine Empire. Early in his history he mentions rather euphemistically that the Turks ‘maltreat the Romans’ (Deeds I.5) and that the Romans were ‘enslaved to the Turks for a long time’ (Deeds I.9). His brief account of the fate of city of Dorylaion is indicative of the conduct of the Turks.

This Dorylaion was once as great a city as any in Asia and worthy of much note. A gentle breeze blows over the land, and plains extend around it, extremely smooth and exhibiting an extraordinary beauty, so rich and fertile that they yield abundant grass and produce splendid grain. A river, fair to see and sweet to taste, sends its course through the midst. Such a multitude of fish swims in it that, while fished in abundance by people there, there is no lack. Splendid dwellings had been erected there by a former Caesar of the Melissenoi, and there were populous villages and natural springs and porticoes and baths; whatever brings pleasure to men, the place used to offer in abundance. But the Turks, when their assault against the Romans reached its peak, threw down the city to its foundations and rendered it entirely bereft of inhabitants; everything vanished, even to the barest trace of its former splendour. Such was this city. (Deeds VII.2)[97]

Other Byzantine citizens were blunter in their condemnation of the Turks. The orator Euthymios Malakes, in his speech to Manuel I, gives a wishful account of how the emperor should treat the Turks due to their aggressive attacks on the empire. ‘For you, barbarians, Hell is the only proper abode. Even though you are not rushing thereto, the emperor will send you there against your will. Your gold that you had collected as tribute while crossing the plains of Dorylaion has perished, your herds of horses and cows and sheep have perished and you have suffered misfortune, even your most important limbs are severed’.[98] That this similar hatred existed among the troops is indicated by the desecration of Turkish tombs at Ikonion by the besieging Byzantine army (Deeds II.6) and the parading of the head of Gabras by the Byzantine soldiers in their camp (Deeds II.8). Gabras came from a noble Byzantine family, of which one branch had gone over to Turkish service, embraced Islam and reached the rank of emir. The troops saw him as a traitor and dealt with him harshly. That the feeling was mutual is indicated by Kinnamos’s reference that the Turks nurtured hatred toward the Byzantines (Deeds IV.21).

One of the few specifically religious incidents recounted by Kinnamos concerns a state visit to the capital of the sultan Kilidj Arslan in 1162. Manuel wished Kilidj Arslan to visit the Church of Holy Wisdom but was refused permission by Patriarch Loukas. Loukas stated that ‘impious men must not pass by consecrated furnishings and priestly adornments.’ (Deeds V.3)[99] This indicates a high level of religious intolerance within Constantinople at the time. Manuel pressed the issue. Later that night there was an earthquake that seemed to the population to be divine approval of the patriarch’s stand. Kinnamos explains that the earthquake was really a foreboding of the military defeat at Myrokephalion in 1176 by Kilidj Arslan. Obviously, Kinnamos did not believe the popular view of the incident because, ideologically, he was unwilling to put Manuel in the wrong.


Niketas Choniates – Roman History

Niketas Chionates was born in the town of Chonai (ancient Collossae) in Phrygia some time between 1155 and 1157. His older brother was Michael Chionates, who became archbishop of Athens. He called Niketas to Constantinople where he received a good classical education. He began his career before 1182 when he served as an official on the Black Sea coast but retired due to the excesses of the reign of Andronikos. He returned when Andronikos was deposed and witnessed the capture of Constantinople by the 4th Crusade. He died in obscurity in 1217.

Niketas’s History contains a number of theological disputes. The account of the controversy regarding the Formula of Abjuration is justly the most famous. It is one of the few controversies between Christians and non-Christians recounted by Byzantine historians. The controversy broke out towards the end of Manuel’s reign, perhaps 1178.[100] Manuel wished to change the formula because of his ambition in reconquering lands in Anatolia lost to the Turks. A member of the Gabras family, who had been raised as a Muslim and served as the vizier to the sultan, named Iktiyar al-Din Hasan ibn Gabras made the suggestion to the emperor that he would be willing to convert if the formula was changed to remove the anathema on the ‘God of Muhammad’. Consequently, a synod was called to discuss the issue. Manuel concluded that there would be many within the Seljiq court willing to convert if the formula was less stringent.[101] At issue was the use of the word ‘holosphyros’ and its synonyms in an attempt to render the Arabic word samad (used in sura 112:2) into Greek.[102] The word was translated as meaning ‘all-spherical’ or ‘hammer-beaten metal.’[103] The Orthodox bishops viewed this understanding of God as blasphemous and merely served to convince them that their God and the god of Muhammad were different.

Byzantine churchmen recognised that Muslims claimed to be monotheists but it seems that since they could not grant Muhammad any genuine revelation they could not agree that his god was the Judeo-Christian God. It was merely a construct of Muhammad’s distorted mind or satanically inspired. The polemics of Niketas of Byzantium from the ninth century demonstrate that there was a strong opinion that the god of Muhammad was really the Devil. Any relation to authentic Christian revelation was merely plagiarism. This attitude seems to explain Eustathios of Thessaloniki’s statement that ‘My brains would be in my feet and I would be unworthy of this garb were I to regard as true God the pederast who was as brutish as a camel and master and teacher of every abominable act as God’ (Niketas Choniates, Roman History VII.216).[104] Magoulias mistakenly claims that Eustathios is equating Muhammad with God (‘an inexcusable mistake’)[105] but it is highly unlikely that after five centuries of polemics the well-informed Eustathios would make such a simplistic mistake.

There were a number of other factors in play. Previous Ecumenical canons had stated that Christians with a grossly heretical Christology were to be treated as ‘heathens.’ Canon XIX of the Council of Nicaea states: ‘Concerning the Paulinists who have flown for refuge to the Catholic Church, it has been decreed that they must by all means be rebaptised.’[106] while Canon VII of the Council of Constantinople in 381 similarly decreed that: ‘…Eunomians, who are baptised with only one emersion, and Montanists….all these, when they desire to turn to orthodoxy, we receive as heathen.’[107] The ‘low’ Christology of Islam would have been seen by the Byzantines in the same terms as the previous heresies. The Paulinists were followers of Paul of Samosata, a bishop of Antioch from the third century. He had advocated an Adoptionist Christology in which Christ had been adopted as the ‘Son of God’ at his baptism due to his goodness. The Eunomians were a radical Arian sect, who claimed that the incarnate Word (Jesus) was ‘unlike’ the Father.[108]  Byzantine theologians always looked back at previous heresies to formulate responses to new movements. This would have been reinforced by their perception of Islam as a Christian heresy. The result is that Byzantine theologians would have seen and treated Muslims, for all practical intents and purposes, as non-monotheists.


George Akropolites – History

Akropolites was born in Constantinople but in his sixteenth year he was sent by his father to the court of John Ducas Vatatzes, emperor of Nicaea, where Acropolites continued his studies under Nikephorus Blemmydes. The emperor afterwards entrusted him with important state missions, as did his successors (Theodore II Lascaris and Michael VII Paleologus). The office of Grand Logothete, or chancellor, was bestowed upon him in 1244.

As commander in the field in 1257 against Michael II of Epirus, he showed little military ability. He was captured and kept for two years in prison, from which he was released by Michael Paleologus. Meanwhile, Michael Paleologus was proclaimed emperor of Nicaea, afterwards expelling the Latins from Constantinople, and became emperor of the whole East; and from this moment Acropolites becomes known in the history of the eastern empire as one of the greatest diplomats. After having discharged the function of ambassador at the court of King Constantine of Bulgaria, he retired for some years from public affairs, and made the instruction of youth his sole occupation. But he was soon em­ployed in a very important  negotiation. Michael, afraid of a new Latin invasion, proposed to Pope Clement IV to reunite the Greek and the Latin Churches; and negotiations ensued which were car­ried on during the reign of five popes. In 1274, at the Council of Lyon, he confirmed by an oath in the emperor's name that that confession of faith, which had been previously sent to Constantinople by the pope had been adopted by the Greeks. The reunion of the two churches was afterwards broken off, but not through the fault of Acropolites. In 1282, Acropolites was once more sent to Bulgaria, and shortly after his return he died, in the month of December of the same year.[109]

Acropolites’ historical work, The Histories, embraces the period from the capture of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade by the Latins (1204) to its recovery by Michael Paleologus (1261), thus forming a continuation of the work of Niketas Choniates. It is valuable as written by a contemporary, whose official position as Grand Logothete, military commander, and confidential ambassador afforded him frequent opportunities of observing the course of events. The orientation of the history is definitely focused on the west.

The Turks were a constant threat to the eastern frontier of the Nicaean successor state. According to Ruth Macrides, the translator of Akropolites into English, he displays the traditional negative view of Islam.[110] Typical comments include mentioning that the Turcoman nomads enjoy plundering Roman (Byzantine) territory (George Akropolites, History 65).[111] There are two interesting incidents that Akropolites relates in his history: the first concerns the baptism of a Seljek sultan, while the second the defeat of the Turks by the Tatars (Mongols). He recounts how an exiled sultan was adopted and baptised by Alexis III (George Akropolites, History 8).[112] The other is a brief account of the Turkish defeat, where he gives a character sketch of the sultan Iathatines. He states; ‘When, as we said, the army of the Muslims was destroyed by the Tatars, a sultan, whose name was Iathatines, ruled them, a son of the sultan Azatines, a bad leader who was born of a good one. For he [Iathatines] took pleasure in drinking and licentiousness, in strange and unnatural sexual intercourse, and always in the company of creatures who no longer knew reason or indeed anything of human nature.’ (George Akropolites, History 41)[113] Akropolites goes on to praise Azatines as a better ruler and military leader because he was ‘kindly disposed towards the emperor’ despite still being prone to ‘licentiousness’ as well. The criteria for praise that Akropolites uses is the extent that the Muslim Turks are pro-Roman[114] or not. Those who are pro-Roman are better people than those who are not.

Akropolites mentions the siege of Baghdad by the Mongols (George Akropolites, History 42).[115] This passing reference demonstrates his disinterest in Muslim history and current affairs. He must have heard about the sack of Baghdad and the murder of the caliph but chose not to discuss it. Speros Vryonis mentions an Orthodox official in the palace of Seljuk sultans who taunted the chronicler Badi al-Din with the words: ‘I understand that your caliph has been killed.’[116] The violent death of the religious head of Islam by the pagan Mongols was a valuable polemical point to those Christians who chose to use it.

A positive comment concerns Nikephoros Rimpsas. Even thought Akropolites states he came from Turkish stock he is called ‘a most orthodox Christian’ (George Akropolites, History 81),[117] evidently with some approval. Rimpsas was an adult convert to Christianity but had also assimilated into Byzantine society.


John Kantakuzenos – History

John Kantakuzenos came from an aristocratic family who originated from the vicinity of Smyrna. John was a close friend and advisor to Andronikos III and supported him in his rebellion against his grandfather Andronikos II. He usurped the throne in 1347 and laid down his power in 1354 and became a monk by the name of Joasaph. During the civil wars John married his daughter Theodora to Umar, ruler of Smyrna and used Ottoman troops as allies. Thus, he was well-informed due to his personal relations as well as his own personal reading.

The four books of history by John Kantakuzenos cover the years 1320 to 1356. The work is basically a political memoir where Kantakuzenos uses the history to justify his own actions but he always refers to himself in the third person. In the dedicatory letter John Kantakuzenos uses the pseudonym Christodoulos.[118]

Unlike most other Byzantine historians Kantakuzenos was on intimate terms with Muslims to the extent that his son-in-law was a Muslim. As a result Muslims appear in quite a favourable light in a number of places in his history. He gives a brief account of a banquet at Skutari, a place opposite the capital on the Asia Minor coast, between the Ottoman Sultan Orhan and himself in celebration for his victory in the civil war.[119] The entire episode is very civilized with Kantakuzenos and Orhan sharing the same table and offers no hint of any religious difference. Orhan is even said to have engaged in drinking, against the Islamic prohibition of alcoholic beverages.

Later in book four, Kantakuzenos gives an account of a Turkish (in Kantakuzenos’ classicising ethnology they are called ‘Persians’) raiding party that was engaged in combat and is defeated by the emperor.[120] A group of survivors surrender to the emperor but are attacked by hot-headed Greek soldiers. A brief mêlée ensues in which some (unarmed) Turkish soldiers are killed. The entire incident shows the Muslims to be trusting and honourable while the Greeks are violent and aggressive, very much in contrast to the traditional bellicose depiction of Muslims in Greek historians. The other accounts of warfare between the Turks and the Byzantines are fairly conventional.

It is only in Kantakuzenos’ account of the persecution of Melkite (and Latin) Christians in the Mamluk realm that Muslims emerge in a negative light as persecutors and enemies of Christians. The Mamluks spared the native Coptic population, referred to by Kantakuzenos as Jacobites, ‘…but all the others they attacked in such a violent fashion that they sent many to a martyr’s death by diverse and varied forms of punishment, and what was most to be mourned, they turned quite a number from their faith in Christ and persuaded them to adopt their religion.’[121] In his account of Lazarus, Patriarch of Jerusalem, Muslims are portrayed in a negative light but these are the Mamluks of Egypt rather than the Anatolian Turks. Earlier in his history Lazarus is praised by the author for rejecting union with the Latins and is persecuted unjustly by a renegade monk who invents false charges. On his return to the Holy Land Lazarus is apprehended and first flattered and then tortured to force him to renounce his faith. Kantakuzenos continues ‘…when their flattery offered no hope – for he [Lazarus] was ready rather to endure anything for his faith in Christ and invoke the hands of the executioners and preferred to suffer skinning and racking, saying “Nothing that exists will be able to turn me from my faith in Christ” – the barbarians abandoned conversion and rejected flattery as useless and then turned to their usual and customary savagery.’[122]


Leontios Makhairas – Chronicle on the Sweet Land of Cyprus

Makhairas was a native of Cyprus and served the court of the Lusignans. He was born around 1380 and died after 1432[123]. The last mentioned reference concerns an event in the 1480s. Leontios Makhairas was a patriotic Orthodox Christian but was willing to support the Lusignans.[124] He is generally impartial but reserves a special dislike for the Genoese.[125]

The chronicle covers ecclesiastical history from Constantine I to times contemporary with Makhairas. The information becomes more detailed by the mid 14th century and generally concerns secular history. Makhairas uses vernacular Greek with a distinct Cypriot dialect, along with numerous loan words from French. It treats in detail the reigns of four kings of the Lusignan dynasty, Peter I, Peter II, James I and Janus, covering the period 1359 to 1432.

The majority of Makhairas’s references to Turks and Saracens concern the periodic raiding and warfare that was endemic in the 14th and 15th centuries. A typical account is the following:

When the Turks heard that the plague had wiped out the men of Cyprus, and the king was in France, all the Turks together fitted out twelve galleys and appointed a captain named Mahomet Reis, and came to Cyprus and landed at Pentayia and raided many people: and he carried them off prisoners and went away (to Turkey). And when the prince heard of it, he sent men on foot and men at arms and knights to Lefkosia, and they went to Pentayia and found that the Turks had gone (Leontios Makhairas, Chronicle 137). [126]

The Cypriots are weakened by plague and unprepared. The Turks take advantage of this weakness and attack the island, carrying off innocent civilians as their booty. They are the quintessential enemy because they show no mercy and take advantage of the helpless, those peasants least able to defend themselves. When the king’s forces arrive, it is too late. The cowardly Turks are unwilling to risk a stand-up fight. This account and others demonstrate that Makhairas had no love for the Turks and simply regarded them as enemies.

The first passage relevant in understanding Makhairas’s view of Islam is an episode concerning a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary. A Turkish ruler, the Great Karaman, was attacking a fortress belonging to the Cypriot kings that contained the icon. Mary appeared to him in a vision and blinded him. He withdrew his forces and donated candles, lamps, oil and money. He was afterwards restored his sight. (Leontios Makhairas, Chronicle 115)[127] The story portrays little of the complexity of Muslim belief and reads like a traditional Byzantine miracle story. There is no indication that Muslims have a devotion to the Virgin Mary and there is no hint that Muslims consider icons to be idolatrous. The reaction of the sultan in providing gifts to promote the veneration of the icon is that of a Christian rather than a Muslim. However, the sultan is not converted by this episode. Later he joined forces with other Turkish leaders in ravaging Cyprus.

A short anecdote about the native Orthodox Christians of Cyprus illustrates the fear that the Cypriots had of the Turks. A sixteen-year-old peasant boy named George was inspired to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. His mother tried to dissuade him due to the danger. She said: ‘My son, you see that the Saracens are hostile to the Christians and are at war with them; and will you travel among them, going from place to place?’ (Leontios Makhairas, Chronicle 668).[128] The mother has no doubt that the Muslims will do her son harm, even if he is on a pilgrimage.

Makhairas reports with some satisfaction the burning to death of a Muslim convert to Christianity named Thomas. Even though he had converted to Christianity he had remained a slave. During a Turkish attack he denied his baptism and escaped with raiders. Later he was caught and executed. That the charge was heresy rather than piracy is indicated by the sentence ‘…caught him again afterwards in 1429, and burned him because he had denied his baptism.’ (Leontios Makhairas, Chronicle 653).[129] The inclusion of this episode suggests that Makhairas approved of the action, despite it being carried out by the Latin Church authorities. Soon after this account, Makhairas praises Muslim converts who remained loyal to their new religion. They had been imprisoned to prevent them from joining the Turks in a raid as Thomas had done previously. Some managed to escape to the mountains while those that remained behind suffered at the hands of the Turks as apostates and were martyred. It is worth quoting Makharias’s text in full as his comments on the governments policy is telling:

And the (numerous) Saracen slaves who had been baptised and were at Lefkosia, they were forcibly prevented (from leaving the town on pain of death, for fear they should turn and) join the Saracens. And this was a foolish thing to be doing, for there were many baptised Saracens who (as soon as they heard of the king’s defeat,) ran away (from fear) and hid themselves in the mountains, that they might not be caught by the Saracens. And among these were George of Damat, who made powdered sugar and syrup, being a sugar-boiler; also Theotoki, the king’s builder, and Nicholas the son of the bathman, Michael the tax-gatherer, the Syrian freedman, Paul the bishop’s slave, the slave of the Makhaira monastery, and the slave called Stavrias of the monastery of Megalos Stavros, and many others who chose rather to die than fall into the hands of the Saracens. But, since God chooses to deprive the officers and the councillors of wisdom, they did everything perversely; thus too they dealt with the lives of the poor folk, to wit the poor envoy and the poor baptised Saracens as well. (Leontios Makhairas, Chronicle 677).[130]

Makhairas clearly has sympathy with these converts. The list indicates that many were personally known to him. To judge by the names many were probably Orthodox Christians. Makhairas sees the authorities as misguided and foolish for viewing all Saracens are treacherous and fickle. Despite their Arab or Turkish background Makhairas sees them as noble converts who would rather die than renounce their faith.


Laonikos Chalkokondyles – History

Laonikos Chalkokondyles was born at Athens around 1423. His father fled to the Peloponnesus in 1435 after an unsuccessful coup against the ruling Acciajuoli family. In 1447 Chalkokondyles became a student of George Gemistrios Plethon. He adopted an Attic form of his name and dropped his original name of Nicholas. He spent his life in the Aegean region but his exact location and occupation is unknown.[131]

Chalkokondyles wrote a history in 10 books covering the years 1298-1463. In his style and ethnography he emulates classical authors, especially Thucydides. The history was written towards the end of Chalkokondyles’ life, some time in the 1480s. The weakness of the history is its lack of a strong chronological framework. It includes many digressions on various peoples including Muslims, Germans, Russians, South Slavs and Spaniards.[132]

Chalkokondyles gives a brief overview of Islam in his account of the Turks. This is characterised as showing ‘no trace of bigotry in his sketch of the Muslim religion; he alludes to the fatalism which it engenders.’[133] However, he is the third Byzantine historian, after Doukas and Kantakuzenos, to make mention of the Turkish practice of human sacrifice. During his account of Murad II’s invasion of the Peloponnese he said: ‘Afterward, purchasing six hundred slaves, he offered up a sacrifice to his father, appeasing him by the death of these men.’[134] As with Doukas and Kantakuzenos, Chalkokokondyles is unaware that this is a non-Islamic custom. The suggestion is that the relation between violence and Islam was so deeply ingrained in the Byzantine imagination that they could easily accept human sacrifice as an Islamic practise.


Doukas – Turko-Byzantine History

The first name and date of birth of Doukas is unclear. The author’s grandfather, a supporter of John Kantakuzenos, fled to the sultan of Smyrna in 1345 and befriended his son Isa (Doukas, History V.5).[135] Doukas was probably born at the start of the 15th century and, if he was the eldest son, probably had the same name as his grandfather, Michael. Doukas spent his life in the service of the Genoese, firstly in Nea Phokaia and later on Lesbos. He spoke Turkish and Italian, a rarity for Byzantine historians. He saw that the Byzantine Empire was in terminal decline so was an advocate of church union for purely pragmatic reasons and considered the Orthodox to be schismatics.

The Turko-Byzantine History of Doukas covers the years 1341 to 1462. It breaks off in mid-sentence in the account of the Ottoman siege of Mytilene in Lesbos. Doukas was an eyewitness to many of the events he describes. He specifically states that he saw the impaled bodies of Italian sailors and describes an embassy to the sultan where Mehmed tired to extort a double tribute from the Genoese.

Despite the fact that Doukas lived in close proximity to the Turks he has little good to say about them. Time and again, Doukas makes scathing remarks about the sultans. The history is a litany to the atrocities committed by the Ottoman sultans. In only a few places does Doukas directly link the horrors of the Ottoman conquests with the religion of the Turks. In discussing Bayazid he makes a connection between the sultans as Muslims and as persecutors. ‘Bayazid was acclaimed ruler of the Turks. He was a feared man, participated in deeds of war, a persecutor of Christians as no other around him, and in the religion of the Arabs a most ardent disciple of Muhammad, whose unlawful commandments were observed to the utmost, never sleeping, spending his nights contriving intrigues and machinations against the rational flock of Christ’ (Doukas, History III.4). [136] Doukas makes some positive comments regarding the sultan Murad but, it seems, in spite of Murad being a Turk (and a Muslim). Doukas gives a series of especially harsh epithets on Mehmed II including ‘the truly flesh-wearing demon’ (Doukas, History XXXIII.12), ‘Antichrist’ (Doukas, History XXXIV.5), ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ (Doukas, History XXXVI.1), and ‘impious tyrant and implacable enemy and murderer of our nation’ (Doukas, History XLII.14). Other crimes that Doukas exposes include the fratricide that normally occurred when a reigning sultan died and has Mehmed murder his eight-month old half-brother (Doukas, History XXXIII.10). The homosexual lust of Mehmed is depicted in the account of the grand duke, Lukas Notaras, execution. A drunk Mehmed demands the youthful son of Notaras to sate his pleasures and sends a servant to fetch the boy. Notaras refuses and goes nobly to his death along with his son and son-in-law (Doukas, History XL.5-7).

It is unclear what connection Doukas makes between the Muslim religion and Turkish conduct. Either the religion of the Turks failed to moderate their savage natures or it simply encouraged them to even greater excesses. The evidence seems to favour the second interpretation. Statements like ‘This nation is intemperate and lustful as no other people, incontinent beyond all races and insatiate in licentiousness’ (Doukas, History IX.1)[137] and calling their traditions ‘savage customs (Doukas, History XIX.13)[138] and finally saying ‘The nation of the Turks, more than any other, is a lover of rapine and injustice. This is true even against their own kinsmen; if their attacks are aimed at Christians, what more need be said? … They rush against the Christians and seize them like sheep…’ (Doukas, History XXIII.8)[139] all point to Doukas’ low opinion of everything Turkish. Doukas does not stop at vague diatribes but gives numerous examples of the atrocities suffered by the Greek Christians at the hands of the Turks. He gives a rather pathetic story of how the Turks let their horses graze on the crops of a local Greek peasant, who vainly tries to protect his livelihood. The farmer is brutally cut down and so is a relative who rushes to his aid. A skirmish ensures with the local villagers. The next day Turkish troops attack and massacre all the peasants while they are in their fields, killing forty of them (Doukas, History XXXIV.10).[140] Two more serious accounts of Turkish atrocities are the looting and enslavement of the cities of Thessalonike (Doukas, History XXIX.5) and Constantinople (Doukas, History XXXIX.15-27). A remark by Doukas on the funeral ceremonies for Mehmed I, which he calls ‘inhuman customs’ indicates that he was aware that the Turks were still practising human sacrifice over the graves of their leaders.[141] Like John Kantakuzenos and Chalkokondyles, Doukas probably attributed this to the influence of Islam.

There are a number of incidents that are specifically anti-Christian. These include the torture of the archbishop of Philadelphia in an attempt to force him to renounce his faith (Doukas, History XXII.7), the forced conversion of Michael Pylles, a corrupt and despicable Greek scribe in the service of the Turks (Doukas, History XXVIII.3) and the burning of icons to roast meat by ignorant Turkish soldiers after the sack of Constantinople (Doukas, History XLII.1).


George Sphrantzes – Chronicon

George Sphrantzes was born in 1401 and as a young man became a courtier in the service of Manuel II. After Manuel’s death, Sphrantzes joined the retinue of Constantine Paleologus who later became the last emperor of Constantinople. The friendship was so close that Constantine Paleologus served as Sphrantzes best man and godfather to his son. He held a number of administrative posts including the governorship of Patras in 1432 and that of Mistras in 1446. He was taken prisoner at the fall of Constantinople and enslaved[142]. He was eventually released and travelled widely. Sphrantzes ended his life as the monk Gregory in 1477/8 on Kerkyra.

The Chronicon or Chronicle of George Sphrantzes was based on his own personal diary and covers the years 1413-77. It is written in a very unpretentious style and includes personal information like the birth of children and details he gained from his own observations. Most of the entries are brief but occasionally Sphrantzes expands on an incident.

Sphrantzes was a quite knowledgeable individual for his time due to his extensive travels in the service of the emperor and his time as an administrator. He recounts numerous personal dealings with the Turks but never brings a direct religious element into his narrative. Sphrantzes generally portrays the Turks in a negative light without directly linking this to religion. The only hint that Sphrantzes gives of the religious difference between the Turks and the Greeks is the brief account of the Ottoman prince named Yusuf who converted to Christianity and adopted the name Demetrios but died of the plague. (Chronicle III)[143] He knows the succession of Ottoman sultans which he enumerates at the start of his chronicle ‘The first had been Ertoghrul, who was followed by Othman, after whom this dynasty was named; the third was Orhan, the fourth was Murad, the fifth was Bayazid, the sixth was Mehmed, and the seventh was Murad. Mehmed was the eighth sultan, who enslaved us and expelled us from Constantinople.’ (Chronicle I)[144] Interestingly Sphrantzes makes the comment that Mehmed enslaved the Greeks, a very negative comment.

Some of the negative comments include calling the sultan Mehmed an ‘impious man’ for secretly planning to capture Constantinople. Manuel is called ‘our holy emperor’ who refuses to break his oath and seize Mehmed when the opportunity arises. (Chronicle VII.1)[145] Later the Ottoman usurper Mustafa is portrayed as a liar as he reneged on his promise to hand back the city of Kallipolis despite giving an oath to do so. Mustafa dismisses his oath with a haughty comment about refusing to give a conquered city back to Christians. (Chronicle IX.1)[146] The contrast between the noble Manuel (a Christian) and the deceptive Mehmed and Mustafa (Muslims) is obvious.

The Chronicle has the usual accounts of Turkish aggression and cruelty. In two places Sphrantzes refers to victims of the Turks as ‘martyrs’ bringing in a distinct religious connotation to the references. Sphrantzes makes mention of the Italian captain, Antonio Rizzo, who was captured an impaled as part of the Turkish blockade of the Bosphorus (Chronicle XXXII.1)[147] and, of course, the emperor Constantine XI Dragas who died defending Constantinople. (Chronicle XXXV.10)[148] Other examples of Turkish cruelty are the massacres of inhabitants of the Morea during the Turkish invasion with the words ‘… [they] found suitable occasions to take prisoners and to slaughter the inhabitants, while they laughed at our lords and nobles for using their swords against each other’ (Chronicle XXXIX.9)[149] and the impaling of a Greek nobleman named Michael Rhaoul who had been taken prisoner. (Chronicle XLIII.6)[150]

In two places Sphranzes makes positive comments about the Turks. These comments concern treaty of friendship between Murad and Manuel (Chronicle XII) but these are the exception rather than the rule.


Michael Kritovoulos – History of Mehmed the Conqueror

The date of birth of Michael Kritovoulos is unclear. He was an adult in 1444 when Cyriacus of Ancona visited him on Imbros. In 1456 he surrendered the islands of Lemnos and Imbros to the Turks. As a result he was made governor of Imbros (Kritovoulos, History II.83)[151] and remained in this position until 1466 when the Venetians occupied the island (Kritovoulos, History III.78-90).[152] He then fled to Constantinople and probably died soon after the great plague, which he survived, sometime around ca. 1470.[153] Kritovoulos was very much a political realist and correctly predicted the destruction of the Byzantine Empire so he was keen to reach an accommodation with the Turks. He states in the prologue to his history: ‘Kritovoulos the Islander, originally of the inhabitants of Imbros, wrote his history in the belief that events so great and wonderful, occurring in our own times, should not remain unrecorded…’[154] Despite serving the Ottoman government Kritovoulos remained a Christian.

Kritovoulos’ work is unique in Byzantine historiography in that it has an extremely favourable portray of a Muslim leader, that of the sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror. The History of Mehmed the Conqueror covers the years 1451-67 in five books. The laudatory stance of the history is hard to tally with the picture of Mehmed provided by other Greek sources.

Kritovoulos was eager to curry favour with the Ottoman court. He repeatedly refers to the sultan as ‘basileus’ (king) and ‘autocrator’ (emperor), titles normally reserved for the Byzantine Emperor. He praises Mehmed’s noble birth and intelligence and excuses him of any excesses carried out by him. Of Mehmed, Kritovoulos states: ‘For this man excelled not only his own predecessors, but also the kings who were of his generation, in valour and courage, generalship and good fortune, and in his experience in military matters…’ (Kritovoulos, History I.8).[155] Mehmed is described as knowledgeable and wise in the wisdom of the Persians and the Arabs. He invents a new and better type of cannon and even goes to visit Athens on his return from campaigning in the Peloponnese because of his interest in the Classical past. Mehmed visits the Acropolis and other ancient sites and admires the antiquities like a Byzantine Emperor. Kritovoulos even calls Mehmed a ‘Philhellene.’ On seeing the looting of Constantinople Kritovoulos depicts Mehmed as weeping (Kritovoulos, History I.256).[156] Kritovoulos even excuses Mehmed of some of the crimes perpetuated by him. Lucas Notaras, the Mega Dux of Constantinople, is executed in an unfair manner. It is clear that Kritovoulos admires Notaras as he calls him a ‘hero’ in the face of death (Kritovoulos, History I.285-287).[157] Later Kritovoulos explains that Mehmed had ordered Notaras’ death due to false information by treacherous informants. Similarly, Kritovoulos fails to mention the execution of David Comnenus, the defeated ruler of Trebizond. He merely states that David lived in comfortable retirement. (Kritovoulos, History IV.46-53)[158] After describing the massacres of various garrisons in the Peloponnese, Kritovoulos states that Mehmed had no choice because he had previously asked them to surrender but they had declined to do so. (Kritovoulos, History III.133-134)[159]

Kritovoulos tries to avoid passing blame on the Byzantines for the disintegration of the Byzantine Empire. He says that ‘First, then, let me say that I would not place any censure on my nation or proceed to slander or speak evil of my people.’ (Kritovoulos, History I.10)[160] However, his account prompts him to recount a number of clashes between Turks (Muslims) and Byzantines (Christians) where the Byzantines are portrayed in a sympathetic light. The sacking of Constantinople has Kritovoulos describe the atrocities committed on the population by the Turks. His account is as follows:

Then a great slaughter occurred of those who happened to be there: some of them were on the streets, for they had already left the houses and were running toward the tumult….Other women, sleeping in their beds, had to endure nightmares. Men with swords, their hands bloodstained with murder, breathing out rage, speaking out murder indiscriminate, flushed with all the worst things – this crowd, made up of men from every race and nation, brought together by chance, like wild and ferocious beasts, leaped into the houses, driving them out mercilessly, dragging, rending, forcing, hauling them disgracefully into the public highways, insulting them and doing every evil thing….And the desecrating and plundering and robbing of the churches – how can one describe it in words? Some things they threw in dishonour on the ground – icons and reliquaries and other objects from the churches. The crowd snatched some of these, and some were given over to the fire while others were torn to shreds and scattered at the crossroads. The last resting-places of the blessed men of old were opened, and their remains were taken out and disgracefully torn to pieces, even to shreds, and made the sport of the wind while others were thrown on the streets.

Chalices and goblets and vessels to hold the holy sacrifices, some of them were used for drinking and carousing, and others were broken up or melted down and sold. Holy vessels and costly robes richly embroidered with much gold or brilliant with precious stones and pearls were some of them given to the most wicked men for no good use, while others were consigned to the fire and melted down for the gold. And holy and divine books, and others mainly of profane literature and philosophy, were either given to the flames or dishonourably trampled under foot. Many of them were sold for two or three pieces of money, and sometimes for pennies only, not for gain so much as in contempt. Holy altars were torn from their foundations and overthrown. The walls of sanctuaries and cloisters were explored, and the holy places of the shrines were dug into and overthrown in the search for gold. Many other things they dared to do. (Kritovoulos, History I.237-246).[161]

Despite his claim to neutrality there are a number of points where Kritovoulos comments negatively on the Turkish occupation. When commenting on the preparations for the defence of Constantinople just before the conquest he states: ‘Instead, the hapless Romans were destined finally to be brought under the yoke of servitude and suffer its horrors’ (Kritovoulos, History I.230).[162]

Kritovoulos mentions the bravery of a number of Turks, especially the leading generals at the siege of Constantinople.  He names Karaja, Ishak, Mahmud and Halil but gives special praise to Baltaoglou, who was admiral of the Turkish navy (Kritovoulos, History I.117-124).[163] Later in the narrative Mahmud is identified as a Byzantine convert to Islam. His grandfather was named Philaninos and held a high ranking position in the Morea (Byzantine Peloponnese). Not only is Mahmud not denounced in the usual Byzantine manner as a traitor and apostate but he is lavishly praised by Kritovoulos. He is described as: ‘This man had so fine a nature that he outshone not only all his contemporaries but also his predecessors in wisdom, bravery, virtue and other good qualities’ (Kritovoulos, History I.303).[164] At the death of Karaja at the siege of Belgrade, Kritovoulos praises him by saying ‘He was a fine man, one of the most powerful of the sultan’s entourage, renowned for his courage and military skill and valour.’ (Kritovoulos, History II.107)[165]



Anonymous – Life of Michael the Synkellos

An anonymous life exists of Michael the Synkellos written in Greek by a monk of the Chora monastery, where Michael served as abbot. The saint was born in Jerusalem in 761 and spent all of his early life under Islamic rule. In 811, Michael was appointed synkellos (or secretary) to Patriarch Thomas of Jerusalem. Michael was bilingual in Arabic and Greek. He translated Theodore Abu Qurrah’s Letter to the Armenians into Greek at the request of Patriarch Thomas and composed a basic grammar of Greek to encourage Greek in the Jerusalem Patriarchate as Arabic was beginning to make in-roads. Later in 815, he was sent on a mission to Byzantine territory with his two disciples, Theodore and Theophanes, and became involved in the resurgent controversy over icons. The most recent editor of the Life of Michael the Synkellos suggests that it was probably written within a generation of Michael’s death.[166] Michael died on the 4th of January 846 without ever returning to Palestine.

For a biography of a man who spent half of his life under Islamic rule there is little reference to Islam. There are a number of reasons for this; firstly the author was a Byzantine so he was less informed about Michael’s early activities in the Holy Land; secondly Michael was not involved in any controversies with Muslims; and finally the main focus of the biography was Michael’s opposition to iconoclasm.

The one and only direct reference to Islam concerns the increase in taxation that the Muslims imposed on the Christian community. ‘It came to pass in those days that a certain heavy fine was imposed by the impious Hagarenes on the holy church of the Resurrection of Christ our God….to the extent that those who lived in the holy city of Christ our God were unable to pay this monetary fine’ (Life of Michael the Synkellos 6).[167] The reference speaks for itself. The harsh tax is unjust and designed to make life unbearable for the monks. Another minor reference occurs later in Michael’s Life when Michael and his disciples, Theodore and Theophanes, have an audience with the iconoclastic emperor Theophilus. The monks are severely beaten and the brothers are tattooed with insulting iambic verses. As part of their punishment Theophilus declares that he will ‘hand them over to two sons of Hagar that they may conduct them to their own country’ (Life of Michael the Synkellos 20).[168] The implication of the threat is that the Muslims will be really harsh to the saints, who were considered foreigners in Byzantium, and will deport them to Muslim territory and execute them. This part of the sentence was never actually carried out as the emperor decided to deal with them himself but the implied threat was seen as a real possibility.


Life of Constantine (Cyril) the Philosopher

Constantine, better known by his later monastic name of Cyril, was the brother of Methodius and one of the famous ‘Apostles of the Slavs’. There exists a long life of Constantine written in Slavonic based on Greek sources. The author of the life is unknown but candidates include Methodius or his disciple, Clement of Achrida. It was composed soon after Constantine’s death.

Constantine was a highly educated individual and served as a diplomat before his conversion to the monastic life. Two embassies are mentioned in his biography and both involved encounters with Muslims. One was a mission to Samarra, the Abbasid capital, when Constantine was twenty-four years old, and the other was to the court of the Khazars. The diplomatic nature of the embassy to Samarra is lost on Constantine’s hagiographer, who focuses on the religious debates that took place.[169] Constantine was seen as the most capable person for the job of ambassador by the emperor and the imperial court.[170] His hagiographer depicts Constantine in glowing terms. He confounds his adversaries and outwits them at every turn. Constantine is well informed of Muslim beliefs. The sixth chapter has the encounter in the form of a dialogue between the protagonists, clearly based on the diary of Constantine, which was translated into Slavonic by Methodius and then abbreviated and incorporated into the Life of Constantine.[171] Both encounters with Islam are incidental; the main focus of the life is Constantine’s mission amongst the Slavs.

Muslims are described as mocking Christianity and doing everything to humiliate the local Christians. The issues raised by the Muslims are those typical in Christian-Muslim debates. These include a lauding of Muhammad’s superiority as a prophet and a praise of his successful mission, an attack on the Christian understanding of God in the form of the Trinity (which the Muslims take in very carnal terms), an emphasis on the superiority of Islamic culture and a pointing out of a perceived inconsistency in Christian morality by claiming that Christians were not following Christ’s instructions to love one’s enemies (Luke 6:27-29 and Matthew 5:44) when they fought Muslim armies.  Constantine has a very low opinion of Muhammad. He, if his hagiographer reports him correctly, emphatically disbelieved that Muhammad had received any revelation. Rather than restraining the baser instincts of humanity, he catered to it. ‘By not curbing your wrath and your lust, but only letting loose, did he fling you into the abyss?’ Another line of attack was the stance that Islamic culture was superior to Byzantine culture. To this, Constantine responds bluntly ‘All the arts have come from us’ (Life of Constantine the Philosopher 6) which ends that line of argument.[172] However, the hagiographer does pay the Muslims the compliment that they were ‘intelligent men well-versed in geometry and astronomy and other sciences…’[173] The Muslims return to the attack on the Trinity but are immediately silenced by Constantine quoting the Quranic Sura (Q. 19:17) on the virginal conception of Jesus. Most probably at this stage of Arab-Byzantine relations, Constantine received this helpful information from a local Christian informant rather than knowing the Quran before he left Byzantine territory.

The second embassy occurred in 860 when Constantine, with his brother as an assistant, was sent to the Khazar court to cement a military alliance and debate religion.[174] The Khazars and the Byzantines had been allies against the Caliphate for a century and the emperor had even built a fortress on the River Don for the Khazars. At the time, the Khazars were in the process of converting to Judaism so they had an interest in monotheistic faiths. A number of other sources describe the type of three-way dialogues in which Constantine participated. In the lengthy discussions between rabbis, the Kagan (the Khazar ruler) and Constantine the Muslims hardly get a look in. Rather than appearing in their own right it is the rabbis who bring up Muhammad in order to confound Constantine. As with his previous discussion on Muhammad, Constantine is very blunt in his criticism. ‘As for Muhammad, who spewed forth his greatest deceptions from malice and dissoluteness, we all know him to be a liar and the bane of everyone’s salvation’ (Life of Constantine the Philosopher 10).[175] From other sources it is evident that Christians sided with the Jews on a number of issues resulting in the Khazars declaring the rabbis victorious. The evidence shows that, for Constantine, the person of Muhammad was a central issue. The truth or falseness of Islam depended on Muhammad.


Leontius of Damascus – Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas

Leontius was a native of Palestine who was attracted to the monastic life. He joined Mar Sabas and became a disciple of Stephen. Soon after the Stephen’s death, Leontius resolved to write his biography in Greek. The life is full of incidents and sayings for the edification of the reader. The epilogue of the Arabic translation states that it was translated from Greek into Arabic  by Abba Yannah ibn Istafan al-Fakhuri in 290 of the Muslim Era. (Leontius, Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas 82.2)[176] 

The Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas is full of pious anecdotes and wise sayings that involve Stephen, the monks of Mar Sabas and surrounding monasteries.

Interaction with Muslims was part of the everyday life of the monastery. The evidence in the Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas points to rather cordial relations between Christians and Muslims in 8th century Palestine. The monks did not live in complete isolation but had close links with the local Christian community. One monk, Christopher, is described as having ‘compassion and mercy not only on the people of his own religion, but also for unbelievers and the Bedouin.’ (Leontius, Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas 20.2)[177] and Stephen is equally praised as similarly showing compassion to Muslims at the end of his life. (Leontius, Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas 81.5)[178] There is even an anecdote that involves a Muslim pilgrim who accompanies a Christian to Jerusalem on pilgrimage. They both decide to visit the Monastery of Mar Sabas, where the Muslim is converted to Christianity by Stephen. The Muslim states as part of his confession of faith:

From this moment on I am a Christian and a believer in Christ the Son of the Living God, he who took away the sins of the world. I reject the devil and all his angels and all his shame, as well as the vain religion of the Muslims. (Leontius, Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas 52.8)[179]

There is no indication that a Muslim visitor to Mar Sabas was in any way unusual. However, the ex-Muslim denounces his old religion as ‘vain’ and mentions it in the same breath as the devil. It seems that the monks of Mar Sabas considered Islam to be part or all demonic in origin.

There are a number of other incidents that portray Muslims in a negative light. The first is an anecdote in which three nuns (two young nuns and their mother) are attacked by Bedouins on their way to visit Stephen. The Bedouin are described in rather base terms:

The Bedouin rushed up behind them [the nuns] like dogs, barking as they chased their prey, with their threats and menacing behaviour striking terror into the hearts of these rational sheep of Christ. It was their hope that the strength of the women’s fear would cause them to stop and to be too weak to run, and that thus they would fall into their filthy hands….When the Bedouin had got hold of that holy woman, one of them grabbed her pure hair, wishing to defile her chaste body. He became furious with her. Barking like a dog, he dragged and pulled her about and pushed her. (Leontius, Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas 50.4)[180]

The Bedouins are then struck down by the power of God and the nuns escape unharmed. It is then revealed that Stephen had witnessed the entire event and had helped the nuns by praying with his arms outstretched. The Bedouins are referred to as Amalek, drawing a comparison with the incident in the Old Testament where the Israelites defeated the Amalekites by having Moses hold out his hands (Exodus 17:8-13). Not only are the Bedouin portrayed as base and animal-like but a dichotomy is established where the Christians are the ones true and loyal to God while the Muslims are the enemies of God.

Two other anecdotes are disparaging to the Muslim authorities. The first concerns Stephen’s reaction to the imprisonment of Elias, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, in Baghdad on some flimsy pretext. The monk Christopher wanted to go to Baghdad to intercede on Elias’s behalf and requested Stephen’s help. Stephen rejects this with the words ‘We must not subject ourselves to toils in which there is no profit, while leaving aside God who is beneficent and merciful, by going to tyrannical and unjust authorities with whom we have no freedom of access.’ (Leontius, Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas 23.4)[181] Clearly Stephen thinks talking to the authorities is a waste of time because they will not listen to reason.

The second anecdote is an incident where Leontius’ aunt becomes very sick on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. She is worried because the local [Muslim] authorities seek to confiscate her property because she does not have any heirs present. The text states: ‘…the sultan in this country is a tyrant who seizes and plunders the property of others, especially that of the sick and the pilgrims, and against whomsoever he can find a pretext’ (Leontius, Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas 64.3)[182] Eventually she is restored to health with her property intact. The implication of this anecdote is the corrupt behaviour of the local authorities; however a link between religion and behaviour is not stressed.



Monks and monasteries were often the victims of Islamic aggression due to their wealth and status. On a raid in 785 Abbot Michael of the monastery of Zobe and 36 of the monks were martyred for refusing to convert to Islam.[183] Other times monks were victims along with the rest of the population. For example, in the raid that resulted in the capture of the city of Amorion in 838 the raiding Islamic armies massacred 30,000 soldiers and civilians with the fall of the city. On the difficult retreat 6,000 Byzantine prisoners were beheaded  because some prisoners managed to escape.[184] Comparatively few accounts of martyrdoms survive from the Byzantine period. There must have been many occasions where the names of the victims remained unknown for want of an author to write an account.


The Sixty Martyrs of Gaza and the Sixty Martyrs of Jerusalem

There exists in a crude Latin translation an account translated from Greek of the execution of the Byzantine garrison of Gaza during the early Islamic conquest translated from Greek.[185] After the surrender of the city of Gaza, the soldiers were imprisoned at Eleutheropolis and exhorted to renounce Christianity and accept Islam. After some months of captivity, they were transported to Jerusalem where ten were arbitrarily executed. The rest were taken back to Eleutheropolis and executed a month later. The dramatic setting is the year 638. The author gives the account a religious context as the soldiers are described as ‘servants of Christ.’ The conflict is seen is terms of religion rather than politics. Hoyland is dubious on the veracity of the details but considers that the text might have some historicity.[186] He acknowledges that forced conversions and executions at this early stage only involved Arab Christians or apostates from Islam but he makes the plausible suggestion that the garrison was made an example to other garrisons. It is evident that the Arab armies encountered their stiffest resistance from wall towns and cities and had great difficulty in capturing them.

Another related text is an account of the execution of sixty Byzantine pilgrims to Jerusalem in 724 during a seven-year truce between Leo III and the caliph. The hagiographer states he translated the text from Syriac but Huxley supposes an earlier Greek text as the source; a text related to the previously mentioned Sixty Martyrs of Gaza.[187] The account has no other support from other historical sources and is considered apocryphal by most scholars.[188] There is no evidence of any truce or the account of the atrocity of the execution of pilgrims in any martyrology. The main value of the text is the view that the author had of Islam. The hagiographer had an intense hatred of Islam. He lived ‘in a harsher and more truculent society than that of St. John Damascene’ so he ‘invented an atrocity in order to give vent to his hated.’[189] The probable connection between the two accounts is a historical core relating to the garrison of Gaza that was later altered into the text of the Sixty Martyrs of Jerusalem by some mischievous monk with the aim of discrediting any peace-treaty with Muslims.


Life of Elias the Younger of Damascus

The anonymous Life of Elias survives in a 12th century manuscript written in Greek. Nothing is known about the author except he had written two previous accounts of martyrs that he mentions in the preface (Life of Elias the Younger of Damascus 1).  These other works do not survive. The Life of Elias is one of the first in the genre of neo-martyrs who suffered at the hands of Muslims rather than the martyrs who suffered and died in the early years of the Roman Empire. Hoyland dates the death of Elias to 779, the early years of the Abbasid caliphate when Damascus had ceased to be the centre of the Islamic world but was still an important Islamic centre.[190]

The story of Elias is told in a straightforward manner. Elias is a poor young carpenter who travels from Heliopolis to Damascus with his mother and two brothers in an effort to earn a living. He is apprenticed to a Syrian Christian who had apostatized to Islam. At this stage Elias is only 12 years old.  At a party to celebrate the birth of a son to his Syrian master’s Arabic patron Elias is made to serve the guests. During the festivities he is tricked into loosening his belt.  In the morning he is accused of having converted to Islam. Removing the belt was seen as a sign of conversion of Islam. Elias denies this and his family flee the city and do not return for eight years. On their return the family attempts to retrieve Elias back wages from the Syrian. Elias is taken to a judge, who is unsympathetic and decides to agree with the accusers. Subsequently, Elias is brutally executed.

It is clear from the narrative that the author views Muslims as persecutors in the same vain as the pagan Roman persecutors.  The governor of Damascus is called ‘tetrarch’,[191] an anachronistic title, harkening to New Testament usage where Herod Antipas is given the same designation in Luke’s Gospel. The hagiographer makes parallels to the interview of Jesus with Herod Antipas. The tetrarch, Muhammad ibn Ibrahim, is portrayed as tempting Elias with offers of wealth, status and women to apostatize (Life of Elias the Younger of Damascus 15).  The Muslim characters emerge in an extremely unfavourable light. The hagiographer emphasises the drunken state of the (Muslim) guests at the birthday party (Life of Elias the Younger of Damascus 7). The Islamic prohibition on drinking alcohol was well known to non-Muslims so the guests can only have been seen as hypocrites by the reader as they were trying to force Elias to accept a religion that they themselves were not scrupulous in following. The judge that interviews Elias recognises his innocence but refuses to declare Elias exonerated. He states ‘Let it be conceded that you had never renounced [your faith], but because you were presented [before the court], we encourage you to apostatize and come to the religion of the Arabs’ … ‘As the witnesses have brought charges against you, I accept the testimony against you and insist that you renounce [Christianity] (Life of Elias the Younger of Damascus 10).[192] The Muslim judge can only be condemned by the reader as unfit for the title. Hoyland calls the Life of Elias of Damascus a ‘well-crafted piece of anti-Muslim polemic’[193] because Elias is perfectly willing to coexist with Muslims but is trapped by their baseness. The conclusion is that a young uneducated Syrian peasant boy is morally superior to all the Muslims he encounters. Even a Muslim noble who was uninformed about Elias and the circumstances of his execution is amazed and exclaims, ‘It is a great thing to die for your faith. This one did not die, but lives.’ (Life of Elias the Younger of Damascus 21).[194] This is much like the Roman centurion at the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. The sentiments expressed are those of the audience listening to the account of Elias.


Martyrdom of Abo the Perfumer

The Martyrdom of Abo, the Perfumer from Baghdad is a Georgian work that recounts the martyrdom of an Arab convert to Christianity. Culturally, Georgia was very much within the Byzantine cultural sphere as they shared the same Orthodox Chalcedonian faith as the Byzantines. In his list of Melkite martyrs of the Umayyad and early Abbassid period Mark Swanson fails to mention Abo even though he mentions nine other martyrs.[195]  The text states that he was martyred on the 6th of January, 786.[196] The account was written by a Georgian cleric by the name of John, son of Saban at the behest of the Catholicos Samuel. There is no indication that John knew Abo personally but he certainly had access to first hand information. The text indicates that Abo had become something of a celebrity in Georgia, strongly implying that conversions to Christianity were a rarity. The account follows a similar pattern to an earlier martyrdom, that of Eustace the Cobbler, a Zoroastrian convert to Christianity, who lived in 5th century Georgia.

The account of Abo is a straightforward and unadorned narrative. Miracles are saved to the end to confirm the saintliness of Abo. The account begins with a prologue that laments the pitiful condition of the Christians in Georgia as a result of Arab rule. This prologue is not included in Lang’s English translation. Then follows the account of Abo’s gradual conversion. His descent from Arab stock is stressed in the narrative to emphasise his allegiance to Arab culture and religion ‘He was born of the line of Abraham, of the sons of Ishmael and the race of the Saracens. He had no foreign blood in him, nor was he born of a slave-woman, but of pure Arab stock on both his father’s and his mother’s side of the family.’[197] Abo is only seventeen or eighteen when he arrives in Georgia in the service of Duke Nerses in 772.[198] The age of Abo is mentioned because being young he was still impressionable. Abo learnt to read and write Georgian while in service in the royal court and soon found himself reading the Bible, attending church services and discussing religion with expert theologians. The impression is that Abo is being immersed and assimilated into Georgian culture. Duke Nerses fell foul of the Arab authorities so he escaped north with a small entourage, including Abo. It was at this time that Abo was baptised. The faith of the people of Abkhazia, including the local prince, strengthened and encouraged Abo but he decided to return to Tiflis and openly profess his Christianity.[199] The emir of Tiflis has Abo arrested on the charge of apostasy at the instigation of local Muslims. Their words to the emir are: ‘…order his arrest and have him tortured and beaten until he confesses the faith of our prophet Muhammad. If he refuses, then kill him, so that his words may not win him a lot of imitators.’[200] Abo is imprisoned and interviewed. He refuses to recant and is eventually beheaded.

The account is distinguished by a distinct lack of polemical invective against Islam. The entire narrative is couched in a language that is pro-Christian rather than anti-Muslim. There is a recurring motif of the ignorance of the Arabs; twice Abo states that ‘I was educated in the religion of Muhammad, and lived according to it as long as I remained in ignorance’; and ‘Although I once sunk in ignorance and foolishness, nevertheless I later became worthy of Christ.’[201] Abo specifically calls Islam a ‘man-made’ religion but there is no talk of demonic inspiration and Muhammad, who is mentioned a number of times, is not vilified in the slightest.


The Passion of Anthony Ruwah

The Passion of Anthony Ruwah is an account of the martyrdom of a Muslim official who converted to Christianity. It is part of a small group of texts that have the motif of a Muslim official who converts to Christianity and suffers the price of martyrdom for his action. This is in contrast to the typical neo-martyr narrative that involves an ex-Christian who reverts to Christianity after previously having embraced Islam.

The text is designed to encourage the repressed Christians who are living under Islamic rule[202] and is full of pious embellishments. The original narrative was written in Arabic. The account is as follows: Anthony was a noble but bigoted Muslim. He enjoyed harassing monks and generally making life difficult for Christians. A miraculous series of visions led to his conversion to Christianity. Anthony saw a vision of a white lamb and dove during a celebration of the Eucharist, not the slaughter of a child, as in the vision recounted by Gregory Dekapolites in his similar account. This took place in a church of St. Theodore in Palestine. The Arab adopted the name Anthony on his conversion and was remembered under this name in Christian circles. On the discovery of his conversion Anthony was offered wealth and honour by the authorities to renounce Christianity but refused. These were the very same temptations that were offered to Anthony were those that contemporary Christians found equally attractive and prompted them to convert to Islam. Lamoreaux points out that these conversion narratives ‘attempt to portray in the sharpest colours the contrast between Christian perseverance and Islamic roguery.’[203] Anthony refused the offer and was beheaded on Christmas Day, 799 AD.

The account was so famous that the Melkite theologian, Theodore Abu Qurrah, referred to it in his tract on the defence of icons. He states:

In our own day there was a well-known martyr, from a family of the highest nobility among the outsiders, whose story is wide-spread. May he remember us to Christ in his prayers, he is called St. Anthony. He used to tell everyone he met that he came to believe in Christianity only because of a miracle he saw in connection with an icon that belonged to St. Theodore, the martyr. (Theodore Abu Qurrah, A Treatise on the Veneration of the Holy Icons XVI)[204]

There is nothing inherently unlikely about an Abbasid prince being attracted to Christianity and being executed for it, especially with the early testimony of Theodore Abu Qurrah. Accounts like this must have amazed contemporary Byzantine Christians and given hope and encouragement to the Melkite Christians living under Muslim rule. The fame of Anthony Ruwah was such that it cut across the sectarian and national divide. He was venerated by Maronites and Monophysites and in places as far apart as Ethiopia and Georgia.[205] Clearly, oppressed Christians were seeking inspiration, hope and comfort in stories like the Martyrdom of Anthony Ruwah.


The 20 Martyrs of Mar Sabas (BHG 1200)

Basil, the abbot of the monastery commissioned Stephen to write an account of the incident. He was renowned as a poet and author.

Mar Sabas was an import Orthodox monastery on the Dead Sea coast. In 797, 20 monks were murdered by a band of Bedouin raiders. The entry in the Roman Martyrology is for John, Sergius, and companions – a group of 20 monks of the Laura of Mar Sabas near Jerusalem, who were killed in one of the anti-Christian Arab raids. Many more were wounded, and a few escaped.

One of the victims was a monk by the name of Theoctistus, a disciple of Stephen of Mar Sabas. The sanctity of Theoctistus was indicated by visions that he experienced, as well as his life and death. Leontius has this to say about him:

All bear witness to it, that it was true – not only on account of the virtuous and pure way of life of this disciple, but also because his death and departure from the world took place through the baptism of martyrdom, which admits of no stain, for he was one of the holy fathers who were martyred, killed by the Bedouin in the laura of this, our father, the great Mar Sabas. What befell them and their martyrdom – this has been written about by the excellent and virtuous wise man, Abba Stephen the son of Mansur, the Damascene, an honour and a glory to our laura.’ (Leontius, Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas 77.5)[206]

A laura was a monastic settlement or monastery. It was first established in the Holy land in the 4th century and was built along a path or central building. These monasteries were pivotal to the intellectual life of Christianity under Islam.


The 42 Martyrs of Amorion by Evodius

There are a number of differing versions of the account of the martyrdom of 42 Byzantine officers on the banks of the Tigress River in 845. In Byzantine calendars, they are commemorated on the 6th of March. The author of the primary version is an otherwise unknown monk Evodius. His account includes numerous theological discussions. It seems the initial account was composed within a generation of the executions. The genre of collective martyrdoms already had a long history in Byzantine literature and the account of the 42 Martyrs of Amorion owes much to the account of the Martyrdom of the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste.

The main characters are the highest-ranking officers, including Constantine, Aetius, Theophilus, Theodore, Melissenus, Callistus and Basoes. The other versions such as one composed by Michael the Synkellos focus on the life of a single officer such as Callistus, the dux of Koloneia. No version names the entire group of martyrs. More than a dozen versions of the incident survive, probably because martyrology was an immensely popular genre in Byzantine literature.

At the fall of the city of Amorion[207] in Phrygia in 838, the Arab forces captured a number of important officers and soldiers. After a number of years of imprisonment, they were asked to convert to Islam. They were promised the highest honours and privileges if they would convert and threatened with the most horrible consequences if they refused. On their refusal to convert, they were executed. Treadgold suggests that the motivation for the martyrdoms was ‘frustration’,[208] while Athina Kolia-Dermitzaki sees the executions as a deliberate demonstration of hard-line Islam in the face of popular criticism.[209]

The longer version by Evodius is full of theological exchanges between the captive Byzantine officers and their Muslim captors. Byzantines prided themselves on their theological knowledge and enjoyed engaging in theological discussion so it can be presumed that some type of exchange took place. Unfortunately, Evodius was far away in Byzantine territory and was not an eyewitness to events. The exchanges were what Evodius imaged what the officers might have said. He was eager to use the account for his own anti-Islamic polemic. However, the dialogue is probably not far from the actual discussions that took place. Typical of Evodius’ methodology is the following exchange:

When the Saracens told the generals that Mahomet was a true prophet and Christ was not, the generals asked them: ‘If two men were to quarrel about a field, with one saying “It's mine!”, and the other saying, “No, it's mine!”, and one had many witnesses that it was his field and the other had not a single witness but himself, what would you say — whose field was it?’ The Saracens replied, ‘His, of course, who had the many witnesses.’ ‘You have judged right’, the generals answered them. ‘So it is with Christ and Mahomet. Christ has many witnesses: the ancient prophets, whom you also recognise, from Moses to John the Baptist, witnessed to Him. But Mahomet only witnesses to himself that he is a prophet, and has no other witness.’ The Saracens were confounded, but attempted then to defend their faith thus: ‘That our faith is better than Christianity is seen in this: that God has given us victory over you, that He gives us the best lands on earth and an empire much greater than the Christian.’ To this the generals replied: ‘If that were so, then the idol-worship of Egypt and Babylon, and of Greece and Rome, and the fire-worship of Persia, would have been true faiths, for at some time each of these peoples has conquered others and governed them. It is obvious that your victory and power and wealth do not prove the truth of your faith. We know that God sometimes gives victory to Christians, and sometimes leaves them in torture and suffering to correct them and bring them to repentance and cleansing from sin.’

The shorter versions of the 42 Martyrs of Amorion lack the theological complexity of the account by Evodius.[210] The shorter version links the rivalry between the two empires to Biblical times with the Byzantines taking the role of Isaac and the Arabs that of Ishmael, their supposed ancestor. In their attack on Amorion the Arabs massacre the population, down to suckling infants and commit atrocities on the civilian population. The Arabs are portrayed as bloodthirsty barbarians while the 42 Martyrs are lauded and praised for their resistance to the temptations offered to them by the Arabs to convert.


Martyrdom of ‘Abd al-Masih al-Najrani al-Ghassani

There exists in Arabic an account of an Arab Christian who joined a group of ghazi warriors fighting against the Byzantine Empire. His association with them resulted in his conversion to Islam. After a number of years, an encounter with a priest prompted ‘Abd al-Masih to rediscover his lost Christianity and become a monk. The underlying guilt over his previous conduct prompted him to provoke the authorities into executing him, which they happily obliged on the grounds of apostasy. The name of the martyr suggests tribes of Christian Arabs; the Ghassanids of Palestine (long-time Byzantine allies) and the Arabs of Najran (Yemen).

Hoyland categorises the account of ‘Abd al-Masih as dubious as there are unanswered questions about the original language of the text and the date of ‘Abd al-Masih’s execution.[211] Both Hoyland and Griffith agree in placing the martyrdom in the 860s, disregarding the scribal dating that places the martyrdom in Umayyad times.[212]

The Martyrdom stresses the difference in conduct of ‘Abd al-Masih as a Christian and as a Muslim. As a young man of twenty he is described as ‘correct in worship, knowledgeable in what was his right and what was his duty’ but he fell in with Muslims on a journey to Jerusalem and decided to go raiding with them. He converted to Islam and committed numerous atrocities against the civilians of the Byzantine Empire for thirteen years. The martyrologist describes his behaviour thus: ‘He killed, he plundered, he burned, and following their example, he engaged in everything forbidden. He prayed with them, and became even more furious and harder of heart against the Romans then they.’[213] The description suggests that ‘Abd al-Masih has forgotten the difference between right and wrong on his conversion to Islam.

A chance encounter with a priest at Baalbek caused ‘Abd al-Masih to reappraise his conduct. The priest reads from the Gospel of Matthew, which reduces ‘Abd al-Masih to tears. He declares to the priest that ‘I once was of the adherents of this Gospel. But today I am of its enemies’ and proceeds to tell him his history. Further discussion with the priest caused ‘Abd al-Masih to realise he could repent. The Martyrdom does not hint at this but the constant slaughter must have been psychologically crushing to a young man like ‘Abd al-Masih, especially for an ex-Christian. A telling incident is that as ‘Abd al-Masih decides to embrace Christianity he throws away his sword. The implication is that to renounce Islam is to renounce violence; to embrace Christianity is to embrace peace.

After a decade as a monk at various Palestinian monasteries, ‘Abd al-Masih goes to Ramlah to provoke the authorities into executing him. He throws a message into the mosque, which declares him an apostate and names his location. The crowd raised a tumult but was unable to find him, protected by the power of God according to the martyrologist. ‘Abd al-Masih returns to Mount Sinai and is appointed Abbot of the monastery, apparently renouncing his earlier attempt at martyrdom.

Circumstances do not result in a happy ending. Returning to Ramlah some years later to appeal to the Islamic authorities about the excessive taxation of the monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai ‘Abd al-Masih is recognised by one of his raiding companions and is denounced.[214] After he refuses to accept Islam, ‘Abd al-Masih is beheaded and his body is burnt. His final words are not a denunciation of Islam but a declaration in the truth of Christianity.

The Martyrdom of ‘Abd al-Masih al-Najrani al-Ghassani demonstrates the dangers of assimilation by Arabic-speaking Christians to the broader Islamic culture. A young man like ‘Abd al-Masih can easily be led astray by the bad company of Muslims. The Martyrdom is also an object lesson that repentance is always possible, no matter what the circumstances might be. The crimes of murder, rape and denial of the divinity of Christ were some of the most serious that a Christian could commit but they were forgiven ‘Abd al-Masih.


Polemical Works

John of Damascus – On Heresies

The biography of John of Damascus is obscure and contains a number of legendary features but the broad outline seems to be as follows: John was born into a Hellenised aristocratic family in Damascus sometime in the late seventh century. The family served as government functionaries to the Umayyad Caliphate. His grandfather had surrendered the city to the Arabs in the initial conquests of the eastern Byzantine provinces and served them as an administrator as the language of government remained Greek. John began his career in the Umayyad court as a tax collector. Sometime in the early eighth century John withdrew from his post into a monastic retirement at the monastery of Mar Saba because of Caliph al-Walid’s policy of replacing the Greek administration with Arabic. As a monk, John composed numerous works on a range of subjects including homilies, liturgical poetry, polemical tracts and the first systematic theology. The iconoclastic emperors at the Council of Hiera in 754 vilified him as ‘John the Bastard’ because of his support for icon veneration. John died sometime before this council as he is spoken of in the past tense.[215]

John was author of a variety of works ranging from specific polemical tracts against rival Christian groups, homilies, religious poetry and theological tracts.[216] Even though he was living in Arab territory John chose Greek as the language of his works. His most famous work is his Three Treatises against Those Who Attack the Holy Icons, directed against Byzantine iconoclasm.[217] His major work was the first systematic theology called The Font of Knowledge. It was composed of three sections; The Dialectica, On Heresies and On the Orthodox Faith. John’s refutation of Islam is the 101st chapter of the section On Heresies. The chapter on Islam is by far the longest chapter, comprising 20% of the entire work. However, the work was not intended to be exhaustive or extensive in its coverage. The nature of a compendium like On Heresies is its succinct analysis, and John does exactly this. In fact, John is remarkably informative in the short space he gives to Islam and its refutation. Despite some controversy regarding the authenticity of the section on Islam, the scholarly consensus is that it is genuine.[218]

John’s refutation is the most famous and early Christian response to Islam in Greek. Andrew Louth justly calls John a ‘pioneer’ in the area of Islamic polemics as John did not have any patristic sources to draw on.  The Font of Knowledge was written sometime in the first half of the eighth century about the same time that Ibn Ishaq was composing his Sirat Rasual Allah, thus this Byzantine Greek source is contemporaneous with the earliest Arabic source for the life of Muhammad, something not often acknowledged. The verdict on John’s chapter on Islam has varied widely. Some theologians such as John Meyendorff have concluded that John only had a superficial understanding of Islam. He states that ‘his [John’s] contribution to the history of Byzantine polemics against Islam is slight’ and ‘he is certainly much better informed about events in Constantinople than about Islam.’[219] Meyendorff considers John to be living in a Christian ghetto having little contact with Islam. He even doubts that John had read the Quran, even though he quotes from four Quranic suras.[220] However, the increasing consensus, most eloquently advocated by Daniel Sahas, has shown that the opposite was true. John’s brief account demonstrates an excellent summary of Islamic belief filtered through the eyes of Christian theology.

Louth sums up the content thus: it ‘starts off defining Islam, situating Muhammad historically, and summarizing his teaching, especially as it bears on Christianity; it then deals with Muslims objections to Christianity, and goes on to discuss various suras from the Quran, the last of which is no more than mentioned, after which there is a brief and rather inconsequential list of Muslim practices.’[221]

He concludes that ‘There is no doubt from this that John has a fairly accurate picture of Islam.’[222]

John of Damascus has the following to say in his chapter on Islam:

‘There is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error…..These used to be idolaters and worshiped the morning star and Aphrodite…..and so down to the time of Heraclius they were very great idolaters. From that time to the present a false prophet named Muhammad has appeared in their midst. This man, after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy. Then, having insinuated himself into the good graces of the people by a show of seeming piety, he gave out that a certain book had been sent down to him from heaven. He had set down some ridiculous compositions in this book of his and he gave it to them as an object of veneration.

He says that there is one God, creator of all things, who has neither been begotten nor has begotten. He says that the Christ is the word of God and His Spirit, but a creature and a servant, and that he was begotten, without seed, of Mary the sister of Moses and Aaron. For, he says, the word and God and the spirit entered into Mary and she brought forth Jesus, who was a prophet and servant of God. And he says that the Jews wanted to crucify him in violation of the law, and that they seized his shadow and crucified this. But the Christ himself was not crucified, he says, nor did he die, for God out of his love for him took him to himself into heaven.

Then, when we say: “How is it that this prophet of yours did not come in the same way, with others bearing witness to him? And how is it that God did not in your presence present this man with the book to which you refer, even as he (God) gave the Law to Moses, with the people looking on and the mountain smoking, so that you, too, might have certainty?” – they answer that God does as he pleases. “This,” we say, “We know, but we are asking how the book came down to the prophet.”

Then they reply that the book came down to him while he was asleep. Then we jokingly say to them that, as long as he received the book in his sleep and did not actually sense the operation, then the popular adage applies to him (which runs: You’re spinning me dreams).

When we ask again: “How is it that when he enjoined us in this book of yours not to do anything or receive anything without witnesses, you did not ask him: ‘First do you show us by witnesses that you are a prophet and that you have come from God, and show us just what Scriptures there are that testify about you’” – they are ashamed and remain silent.

“Although you may not marry a wife without witnesses, or buy, or acquire property; although you neither receive an ass nor possess a beast of burden unwitnessed; and although you do possess both wives and property and asses and so on through witnesses, yet it is only your faith and your scriptures that you hold unsubstantiated by witnesses. For he who handed this down to you has no warranty from any source, nor is there anyone known who testified about him before he came. On the contrary, he received it while he was asleep.”

They furthermore accuse us of being idolaters, because we venerate the cross, which they abominate. And we answer them: “How is it, then, that you rub yourselves against a stone (the black stone) in your Kaaba and kiss and embrace it? Then some of them say that Abraham had relations with Hagar upon it, but others say that he tied the camel to it, when he was going to sacrifice Isaac. And we answer them: “Since scripture says that the mountain was wooded and had trees from which Abraham cut wood for the holocaust and laid it upon Isaac, and then he left the asses behind with the two young men, why talk nonsense? For in that place neither is it thick with trees nor is there passage for asses.” And they are embarrassed, but they still assert that the stone is Abraham’s. Then we say: “Let it be Abraham’s, as you foolishly say. Then, just because Abraham had relations with a woman on it or tied a camel to it, you are not ashamed to kiss it, yet you blame us for venerating the cross of Christ by which the power of the demons and the deceit of the Devil was destroyed.”

As has been related, this Muhammad wrote many ridiculous books, to each one of which he set a title. For example, there is the book On Women, in which he plainly makes legal provision for taking four wives and, if possible, a thousand concubines – as many as one can maintain, besides the four wives. He also made it legal to put away whichever wife one might wish, and, should one wish so, take to oneself another in the same way.  Muhammad had a friend named Zeid. This man had a beautiful wife with whom Muhammad fell in love. Once, when they were sitting together, Muhammad said: “Oh, by the way, God has commanded me to take your wife.”

The other answered: “You are an apostle. Do as God has told you and take my wife”. (John of Damascus. On Heresies 101).[223]

That John was well informed can be seen by the details he mentions. He begins with biographical information on Muhammad and provides a selective history of the rise of Islam. He knows when Muhammad flourished and his teaching, especially as it impinges on Christian doctrine. He knows a number of scandalous incidents in the life of Muhammad like his marriage to Zeynab,[224] his multiple marriages, his account of receiving revelations alone in a cave, his claim to be a prophet and his authorship of ‘books.’ John is aware of the Quran, or at least a proto-collection of suras that Islamic tradition had gathered from its earliest times.[225] John quotes or summarises a number of suras and knows the sura titles. This means he had access to Arabic as there were no Greek versions at this stage.

There are a number of features that become immediately striking. The issues that John raises are those that time and again come up in Christian-Muslim polemics. John had gained his knowledge from actual discussions with Muslims. This is not surprising as Damascus was the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate and an important intellectual centre. The only exception to this is that of the Muslim accusation that the Jewish and Christian Scriptures had been corrupted. At this stage, Muslims were only dimly aware of them as they had not been translated into Arabic. It was only later that their familiarity increased and they were forced to level this charge because they contradicted the Quran. That the work was intended to be practical seems obvious from the nature of the ‘If they say…’ to the ‘you say…’ type responses. Some of the answers are defensive answers to Muslim objections while others are offensive responses to challenge Muslims.


Theodore Abu Quarrah – Various Works

Theodore Abu Quarrah was the first significant Christian theologian to write in Arabic. He was trilingual in Greek, Syriac and Arabic with Syriac most likely to be his first language. Although the exact dates of Theodore are uncertain, the definite dates in his life place him as being active in the late eighth century and early ninth century. He is usually considered to have been born circa 740-50 and died ca. 820-25. At one stage, Theodore was the Melkite bishop of Harran, he then became a wandering controversialist and polemicist as a result of some unspecified ecclesiastical dispute.[226] The long held opinion that Theodore was a disciple of John of Damascus has been recently shown to be erroneous on chronological grounds and his links to the Mar Sabas Monastery have also been shown to be tenuous.[227]

Theodore was author of a number of directly polemical tracts, while others are more apologetic. His most aggressive work is entitled Refutations of the Saracens [or Dialogues] by Theodore Abu Qurrah, the Bishop of Harran, as Reported by John the Deacon.  The recently discovered preface shows that the work was actually composed by the otherwise unknown John the Deacon. Other polemical treatise includes his tract on Free Will and Questions on Free Will against Muslim fatalism.  His tract On the Trinity and On Icons also have a Muslim audience in mind. Other tracts deal with inter-Christian rivalries. Being a Melkite, Theodore disputed with Nestorians, Monophysites and Maronites. Theodore even composed a traditional Tract against the Jews.

A brief perusal of Theodore’s works shows that he was well informed about Islam. Theodore quotes the Quran more than twenty times in his collected works.[228] He is well aware of some Islamic traditions and mentions by name the hadith on the Forgiveness of Aisha.[229] He was composing his works just when Muslims were formalising their traditions and setting them down in writing. He had a specific pastoral concern in his teaching. His language and arguments in the Dialogues are kept deliberately simple for the sake of his audience.[230]  Other works demonstrate that Theodore could write in a sophisticated manner.

The Dialogues were written in Greek so this work was easily accessible to Byzantine theologians.[231] The language of the Dialogues probably explains their combative and dismissive attitude, despite being written within the boundaries of the Abbasid Caliphate. Few Muslims would have had the language skills to read the contents. The preface, for example, states the view that Islam is a pseudo-religion: ‘…he [Theodore] worthily held up to public scorn the impious religion of the Hagarenes and showed to all that it was worthy of complete derision.’[232] John the Deacon also states that he considers Islam to be ‘a heresy.’[233]

The Dialogues are simplistic but accurate in content and seem to be condensed accounts of actual debates between Theodore and Muslims. The most aggressive section is the discussion on the career of Muhammad. Theodore is brutally blunt about Muhammad. He states: ‘Muhammad, the insane false prophet of the Hagarenes. This can be shown from his own boastful and lying remarks. Under the power of a demon, he said, “God sent me to spill the blood of those who venerate the divine nature as three hypostases and of all those who do not say, ‘God is one, barren-built, who did not beget and was not begotten, who has no partner.’’ This is the theology of one who is insane.’[234] It is difficult to believe that Theodore would have been actually been able to get away with his comments. Perhaps it is wishful thinking by John the Deacon.

Other topics in the Dialogues deal with issues that were at the heart of the differences between Christianity and Islam. Theodore defends the text of the Bible[235] and disputes the claim that Muhammad was predicted in the Scriptures.[236] He is aware that Muslims deny the Trinity,[237] the crucifixion[238] and the deity of Christ.[239] These Theodore defends as best he can and is depicted as getting the better of his opponents. Theodore even defends monogamy against the Muslim insistence on polygamy by using the example of Adam and Eve, something a Muslim would accept.[240] The Dialogues demonstrate that there was available to Byzantine scholars a work against Islam that was accurate and comprehensive from the early 9th century.


Niketas of Byzantium
      – Response and Refutation
      – Refutation of the Quran

Little is known about the biography of Niketas of Byzantium. He is given the title ‘philosopher’ and ‘teacher’ as well as ‘of Byzantium’ in manuscripts of his works. His exact dates are unclear but he was active in the second half of the 9th century. He was most probably a student of Photius of Constantinople.

Niketas wrote the first formal systematic refutation of Islam and the Quran in Greek on Byzantine territory. His work was indicative of the rise of learning in the 9th century and the theological engagement at the time. Niketas composed ‘A Refutation of the Falsely Written Book of the Arab Muhammad’ often known as ‘The Refutation of the Quran.’ He also wrote a ‘Refutation of the Epistle of the Hagarenes’ which was a response on behalf of the Emperor Michael III of a letter from the caliph for the emperor to embrace Islam. Niketas was also author of polemical works against the Armenians and the Latins.[241] Meyendorff claims that Niketas had probably never even met a Muslim and that his Refutation was merely a scholarly exercise.[242] That Niketas would go through some trouble for a work that would be unusable seems improbable. Niketas made the effort to read previous works against Islam in preparation for his own polemics. He had read Theodore Abu Qurrah’s works.[243] Polemics were meant to be practical or their usefulness would be negligible. That the work survived suggests that some in the Byzantine Church found it useful; however, it was definitely aimed at a Christian rather than a Muslim audience.[244]

Niketas had access to a Greek translation of the Quran which he used in his refutations. It is unclear if the translator of the Quran was a Christian or Muslim but given the Islamic prohibition of translating the Quran it is most probable he was a Christian. Niketas did not know any Arabic so he used the translation in good faith. Niketas cites the Quran numerous times, giving exact quotations under their sura title and number.[245] For example he knows the exact words of the Quran that accuse Christians of being polytheists and deny the Trinity: ‘those who ascribe associates to God.’[246] These are key verses in the dispute over the nature of God. Niketas is even aware of the Islamic charge that a ‘Son of God’ requires the existence of a woman.[247]

The translations contained a number of errors that led Niketas astray but he can hardly be accused of deliberate misrepresentation. The most significant error concerns the title of God as ‘samad’ in Arabic meaning both ‘eternal’ and ‘solid’, ‘massive’ and ‘permanent.’[248] The Christian translator probably did not have the grounding in the theological vocabulary. Other Christians knew better but were willing to leave it to make Muslims look ridiculous.

Niketas can, in fact, be applauded for his attempt to go to the sources in his examination of Islam, something that was not done in the west until the 12th century when Abbot Peter the Venerable had the Quran translated into Latin.[249]

Niketas begins his treatise with an apologetical exposition of the Christian faith, concentrated mainly on the doctrine of the Trinity. Niketas then proceeds with a systematic refutation of the Quran in thirty chapters. He is not impressed whatsoever with the Quran or its contents, calling it the ‘most pitiful and most inept little book of the Arab Muhammad’, full of blasphemies against the Most High, with all its ugly and vulgar filth.[250] He knows that the Quran teaches the Virgin Birth but sees this as ‘an act of effrontery and contrary to his [Muhammad’s] own wishes.’[251] Niketas then mocks the Quran for claiming that the Virgin Mary was the sister of Moses and Aaron.

On the grounds of morality Niketas condemns Islam because it sanctions murder, supposedly at the behest of God. Niketas says: ‘…all murder, insofar as it is murder, is either corruption of a human being or effects corruption of a human being, and if it is that, it is bad itself.’[252] Krausmuller sums up Niketas case thus: ‘the Muslim God cannot be the true God because his law does not reflect the objective truth about homicide; and that the Muslims themselves only adhere to this law because they are uncouth and ignorant barbarians…’[253] Krausmuller claims that Niketas ‘departs from … earlier Christian positions’ regarding murder[254] but fails to differentiate the exegesis of Old Testament killing like that committed by Moses, Phineas and Samuel[255] from that committed by Muslims. Obviously Christians needed to explain the actions in the Old Testament without resorting to claims like it was a different god, as the Gnostics claimed, or that it didn’t happen or the practitioners were not inspired by God. Rather than go into detail, Niketas is just responding to the contemporary situation of Islamic Jihad and aggression directed towards the Byzantine Empire. Krausmuller even quotes a poem of George of Pisidia on Heraclius’ Persian War to show that the Byzantines approved of divinely sanctioned war.[256] What Krausmuller fails to recognise is a poet’s bombastic praise rather than theological accuracy. George was no theologian, nor did he pretend to be, so his remark that Heraclius fought under ‘Christ’s command’ is merely a poetic conceit. However, Niketas knew perfectly well that Jihad was a religious obligation for Muslims. He took the high moral stance because Byzantines were fighting a defensive war. Byzantines took the view that war was necessary for the survival of their civilization but they did not glorify it the way Islam and the west did.

Niketas concludes that the Quran contains some things that are from God but many others that are not. He speculates that God is either changeable or does not exist, neither is an option he is willing to accept. Niketas is responding to the Muslim claim of a progressive revelation. This was a difficult case for Christians to argue as Muslims used the same arguments against Christianity as Christians used against Jews.[257] Since Niketas cannot accept the options that God is changeable or non-existent he makes the connection that the god of Muhammad is the devil.[258] In reaching this conclusion Niketas was drawing on Saint Paul. New Testament texts like II Corinthians (II Cor 11:3-4) make it clear that the Islamic doctrine of a human Christ who was a mere apostle (Paul’s ‘another Jesus whom we have not preached’) must be satanic. The Byzantines often believed that the devil would mix truth with deception in order to trap believers.


Eutychius of Alexandria – The Book of the Demonstration (Kitab al-Burhan)

Eutychius was the Melkite Patriarch of Alexandria in the early 10th century. He was born in Egypt in 876, at Fustat (Cairo) and died in 940. He was an Egyptian Arab, named Sa'id ibn Batriq; his father's name was Batriq (Patricius). He first studied medicine and history, and practised for a time as a physician. He then entered a monastery and eventually became Patriarch of Alexandria, taking the name Eutychius, in 933. Being the Melkite (Orthodox) patriarch, he spent most of his reign in strife with the great majority of Egyptian Christians who were (Monophysite) Copts, and with his Coptic rival. His works (all written in Arabic) are treatises on medicine, theology, and history. His most famous view is a chronicle of the history of the world from Adam to 938. The work is dedicated to his brother, Isa ibn Batriq, and is meant to supply a short account of universal history.

The Book of Demonstration is a compendium of Christian theology in Arabic. Eutychius offers little new or innovative in the way of doctrine. He is heavily dependent on earlier sources, especially John of Damascus. However, there are a number of places where Eutychius responds specially to the challenge of Islam.[259]

In one section of the Book of the Demonstration Eutychius discusses the direction of prayer. He states that ‘Christ has given us the east as a direction for worship, which He reserved for those who believe in Him….The east is the original direction for worship, for there God established the Garden for Adam…’ (Eutychius, Book of the Demonstration I.300-301)[260] The Arabic word for direction is ‘qibla’ so Eutychius is directly challenging the Islamic direction of prayer towards Mecca.


Euthymius Zigabenus
      – Dogmatic Panoply
      – Disputation on the Faith with a Saracen Philosopher

Euthymius appears in the history of Anna Comnena as the court theologian of the emperor Alexios I who helps interview Basil, leader of the Constantinoplian Bogomils. This episode has been convincingly dated to 1112. Anna writes: ‘However, those who would like to know all are referred to the so-called Dogmatic Panoply, a book compiled on my father’s orders. He sent for a monk named Zigabenus, known to my grandmother on the maternal side and to all the clergy, who had a great reputation as a grammarian, was not unversed in rhetoric and had an unrivalled knowledge of dogma. Zigabenus was commanded to publish a list of heresies, to deal with each separately and append in each case the refutation of it in the texts of the holy fathers’ (Anna Comnena, Alexiad XV.9).[261] Euthymius also wrote a separate account of his interrogation of Basil.

Among the heresies attacked by Euthymius in his Dogmatic Panoply were the contemporary heresies including those of the Armenians, Paulicians and Bogomils as well as Muslims and Jews.[262] The section on Islam occupies the last section of the treatise. Euthymius was a careful theologian. In his essay against the Paulicians he goes to the trouble of consulting a Paulician commentary on the New Testament. Euthymius was also author of a dialogue Disputation on the Faith with a Saracen Philosopher in which he argues with a Muslim theologian.[263]

Euthymius Zigabenus begins his refutation of Islam with a mocking biography of the ‘pseudo-prophet Moameth’. He knows a number of authentic details of Muhammad’s life, including the early death of Muhammad’s parents, his marriage to Khadija and his participation in trade with Syria.  He knows that the archangel Gabriel supposedly appeared to Muhammad but really thinks that Islam is a hodgepodge of half-understood doctrines gleaned from ‘Jews, Arians and Nestorians’ during Muhammad’s travels. Muhammad’s revelations are considered epileptic attacks rather than demonic manifestations. Despite the fact that Zigabenus uses the material for polemical purposes he is quite well informed as to the biography of Muhammad.

Zigabenus is aware of the Quran but considers it an absurd concoction of gossip and misunderstanding. He singles out the claim that Mary was a contemporary of Moses and Aaron and that Jesus spoke from the womb as particularly erroneous and a good example of the contents of the Quran. The Quranic injunction on polygamy is described as: ‘He legislated that everyone could take four wives and a thousand concubines, as many as he could feed’ but is dismissed as so carnal that it reduces morality to the level of dogs or pigs. As for Jihad, Zigabenus makes a damning comment that invalidates Islam because of its aggressiveness and lack of humanity: ‘a murderous tendency of a murderous prophet of a murderous people.’[264] Zigabenus is quite aggressive in his method but singles out objections that his Christian readers would readily agree with. He is not interested in the subtleties of Trinitarian theology.


Bartholomew of Edessa
      – Against the Hagarenes
      – Anonymous Tract Against Muhammad

Bartholomew of Edessa was the author of a polemical work against Islam written probably in the 12th or 13th centuries in Greek.[265] The place of his birth is not clear but it was probably Edessa or some neighbouring town, for he was definitely a monk of that city, and in his refutation of the Hagarenes, he calls himself several times ‘the monk of Edessa’.  Edessa was on the outer fringes of the Byzantine Empire and was often in Islamic hands.

Bartholemew’s tract is known as the ‘Refutation of the Hagarenes.’[266] The beginning of Bartholomew’s treatise is unfortunately lost. The treatise, as it now stands, opens with a statement of the objections of Muslims against Christianity, among which are the dogmas of the Trinity, of the Incarnation, and of confession. Bartholomew then gives his answers, and makes many counter-charges against Muhammad and his so-called revelation. The main lines of argumentation are taken from the life of the prophet himself. Bartholomew shows that nothing either in his parentage, education, or life betrays any God-given mission. From this he concludes that Muhammad was an impostor, preaching without any divine credentials. Bartholomew is well acquainted not only with the Christian position which he defends vigorously, but also with the position of his adversaries; he knows the customs, practices, and beliefs of the Arabs, and he boasts that he has read ‘all of your sacred books.’[267] That Bartholomew has some knowledge of the Quran is indicated by his use of the passages that are favourable to Jesus and Mary. He throws this back at Muslims by saying: ‘…in the entire Quran there do not occur any praises of Muhammad or his mother Aminah, such as are found about our Lord Jesus Christ and about the Holy Virgin Mary, the Theotokos.’[268] This passage also shows that Bartholomew knew Muhammad’s mother’s name, something he could only have learned from Islamic tradition.

Daniel Sahas has shown that Muslims were responding to Christian polemics against Muhammad by manufacturing miracles to validate Muhammad’s status as a prophet. Christians had used the miracles of the prophets (and Jesus) to validate their authenticity and Bartholomew is no exception. He states explicitly: ‘We (Christians) have such a prophet who foretells the future as well as what took place in the past, and who shows signs and marvels. We know, however, nothing of this sort from Muhammad, so that we may call him a prophet or apostle.’ By the 9th century Muslims collectors of hadiths, like Ibn Sa’d (764-845) in his Book of Classes, could include numerous miracles of Muhammad, many of them emulating those performed by Jesus in the Gospels.[269] Bartholomew will have none of this and outrightly dismisses the claims to Muhammad’s miracles, which Sahas terms ‘apocryphal.’[270] Even the more ‘canonical’ miracles of Muhammad like the ascent of Muhammad into heaven and the splitting of the moon do not impress Bartholomew. Consequently the role of miracles played a lesser part in polemics as the significance of the character and morality of Muhammad came to the forefront.[271]

A second treatise Against Muhammad [272] is attributed to Bartholomew of Edessa; but, in spite of the numerous resemblances to the previous work, probably due to the use of the same sources, the differences are of such a nature as to make the ascription of it to Bartholomew unjustified. For example the names and the number of Muhammad’s wives and children; the editor of the Quran and the Nestorian monk who taught Muhammad Christianity are all named differently.


Paul of Antioch
      – Letter to a Muslim Friend
      – Letter from the People of Cyprus

Very little is known about Paul’s biography. His extant works indicate that he originated from Antioch, entered the monastic life and eventually became the Melkite bishop of Sidon. The exact dates of his most famous work are unclear, but evidence from existing manuscripts and internal references place his activity between 1140-1200.[273] Paul was a native speaker of Arabic and all his existing works were composed in this language.

Paul’s Letter to a Muslim Friend adopts a tactic that is much less combative and polemical than typical Byzantine works against Islam but the friendly tone does not hide the underlying message that ‘salvation depends upon the proper use of one’s understanding’. The rest of the Letter is an explanation of how the friend might apply his perceptiveness more acutely in interpreting the Quran properly, and so see the truth of Christian teaching.’[274] The actual letter is rather brief, comprising 64 short paragraphs. It resulted in two massive refutations by leading Muslim scholars - Shihab al-Din Ahmad b. Idris al-Qarafi (made before 1285) and Ibn Taymiyya of Damascus (written at the beginning of the 14th century).[275] The conclusion is that the letter was considered a serious threat despite its brevity. Ibn Taymiyya’s refutation was many times longer than the letter. It seems that Ibn Taymiyya wanted to crush Paul’s arguments by the mere weight of words.

Later an anonymous scholar from Cyprus in the 14th century redacted and enlarged Paul’s letter in a slightly more polemical manner.

The Letter to a Muslim Friend is unique among Byzantine polemics for Paul’s irenic approach and its copious use of quotes from the Quran. He makes six points:

  1. Muhammad was only sent to the Arabs and Islam is not a universal religion.
  2. The Quran praises Christ so Christians need not convert to Islam.
  3. The prophecies of the Old Testament confirm Christian doctrines like the Trinity and the incarnation.
  4. Christian doctrines can be proved by reason.
  5. Quranic terms support the Christian concept of God.
  6. That Christianity was perfect and any new revelation was unnecessary.[276]

Accepting the blind devotion that Muslims hold for Muhammad and the Quran, Paul’s tactic is not to dismiss them as false but to present them as misunderstood. In this manner Paul is turning a common Muslim polemical tool against them. Muslims often claimed that the Apostles had misunderstood Christ. Both Paul and his Cypriot redactor demonstrate a ‘prodigious’ knowledge of the Quran.[277] Paul uses all the pro-Christian Quranic suras that he can muster and the Cypriot adds more and even includes the names of the suras quoted by Paul. The key to the argument is the limited scope of Islam and the universality of Christianity. This was a strong case as Byzantine Christianity was nowhere near as culturally imperialistic as Islam or Western Christianity. Orthodoxy had a strong tradition of allowing vernacular translations of the Scripture and worship in native languages.

The method of both authors can be demonstrated by the section on the defence of the authenticity of the Gospels. The beginning section using logic and history is from the Cypriot scholar while the following section using the Quran is what he has incorporated from Paul:

‘If the book which they have in the one language of Arabic and is in one location cannot have been altered and not one letter of it is substituted, how can our books which are written in seventy-two languages be altered? In each of them there are thousands of copies, which were accepted for six hundred years before the coming of Muhammad. They came into people’s hands, and they read them in their different languages despite the size of their countries and the distance between them. Who can speak seventy-two languages? Or who could make the decision to collect them from the four corners of the earth to change them? If some of them were changed and some were left – this was not possible because they are all one message, all the languages. So such a thing cannot ever be said.

Indeed, we have found a proof that is more impressive than this in his words in Counsel, ‘Say: I believe in whatever scripture Allah hath sent down, and I am commanded to be just among you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord. Unto us our works and unto you your works; no argument between us and you. Allah will bring us together, and unto him is the journeying’. As for those who are not People of the Book, it says in The Disbelievers, ‘Say: O disbelievers! I worship not that which ye worship. Nor will ye worship that which I worship. Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion.’ It also says in The Spider, ‘And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong ; and say We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is one, and we surrender unto him’. It does not say: You surrender to him, but ‘and we’, i.e. himself and the Arabs who followed what he brought.’[278]


Demetrios Kydones / Ricoldo da Monte Croce – Refutation of the Koran

Ricoldo da Monte Croce was a Dominican monk. He was born in Florence about 1243 and died there in 1320. After studying in various great European schools, he became a Dominican in 1267; was a professor in several convents of Tuscany (1272-99), made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (1288), and then travelled for many years as a missionary in western Asia, having his chief headquarters at Baghdad. He set out for Baghdad in 1288 with the express reason of acquiring knowledge of Islam to be better able to refute its claims. Ricoldo returned to Florence around 1302 and achieved high status among the Dominicans.

Ricoldo was author of a number of works. He wrote his Itinerarium or Itinerary as a guidebook for missionaries working in the Middle East. It takes the form of a diary that describes the counties, people and customs of the people visited by Ricoldo. The Epistolae de Perditione Acconis are a series of five letters written in lament over the fall of the city of Acre, the last Crusader foothold in the Holy Land in 1289. Ricoldo’s best-known work is the Contra Legem Saracenorum or Against the Law of the Saracens. It was written in Latin in Baghdad so the local Muslim authorities were totally unaware of the nature of his work. Ricoldo was clearly one of the better-informed Latin authors on Islam having spent four years in Baghdad learning Arabic, the Quran and Islamic traditions. He was not impressed with what he learnt. He found many points in the biography of Muhammad that were worth criticizing.

Demetrios Kydones was a leading Byzantine intellectual in the 14th century. He became an advocate of church union and eventually a convert to Roman Catholicism. He translated Ricoldo’s polemic into Greek under the title Against the Followers of Muhammad.[279]  The translation ‘may have been little more than a literary exercise to improve his knowledge of Latin’[280] but it was extensively used by following Byzantine theologians like John Kantakuzenos, which implies it had some practical knowledge. It was even re-translated back into Latin during the Renaissance.[281]  Despite all the effort that Ricoldo had put into his polemic it only survives in three manuscripts. It was only with the re-translation that it became widely disseminated in the west.[282] Later Manuel II Palaeologos, who was grandson of John Kantakuzenos, used the work for his own anti-Islamic writing. It was from this Greek translation that the knowledge possessed by Ricoldo passed into the Byzantine intellectual mainstream.

Ricoldo gives an account of Muhammad’s teachers. He cannot accept the divine origin of the Quran so he searches Islamic sources for evidence to show that Muhammad had teachers who taught him what he later put in the Quran. He pin-points two human sources; one Jewish and one Christian. He states that Salman the Persian, an early Muslim convert, was a Jew who provided Muhammad with information. He is incorrect in this, probably by combining stories about Salman and Rabbinical converts mentioned in both Muslim and Christian sources. The other source is a Christian monk named Bahira, who Ricoldo refers to as a Jacobite. He is generally depicted as a Nestorian, even though he is called an ‘Arian’ in the earliest sources.  

As well as attacking the source of Islamic revelation, Ricoldo attacks Muhammad himself: ‘They can also be easily confounded by the scandalous life of their own prophet Muhammad, who led a life consumed by indulgence, adultery and rapine down to his last breath…The Saracens themselves say that Muhammad, a single man, could not produce the Quran without God’s help, with its many references to the Old and New Testament. In fact, there are many things there against the Old and New Testaments.’[283] Ricoldo also brings up the issue of Muhammad’s lack of miracles. He understands miracles as a guide to truthfulness, citing the example of Moses and Jesus. He is aware of the Muslim claim of the miracle of Muhammad’s splitting of the moon but is dismissive of it as he knows what Muslims assert is not in the Quran.[284] By attacking the two central pillars of Islam, Muhammad and the Quran, Ricoldo tries to undermine the assurance of Muslims.

In an effort to show the Quran is a ‘haphazard collection of human documents’ he gives an account of how Uthman burnt rival versions of the Quran.[285] Ricoldo even states that rival Muslim factions resorted to killing each other over rival readings. He is scathing in attacking the lack of order and coherence in the Quran. He states of Muhammad that ‘Very often he seems to speak like a man dreaming, and especially towards the end of the Book, where there seem to be some words missing.’[286] As a result Ricoldo finds the Quran full of inconsistencies. He knows and quotes the Quranic verse (Q. 4:82) that claims the Quran is true because it lacks contradictions but turns the tables on Muslims by claiming that its own criteria prove it false. He then summarises the account of Solomon in the Quran and the Bible to show that Islamic tradition is false.[287] He identifies these as originating from Jewish ‘fables’. Ricoldo is correct in identifying the Talmud, which he names specifically, as a source for the Quran; modern scholarship has vindicated this position. He knows that the apocryphal birth and infancy narratives in the Quran and the story of the Seven Sleepers can only have originated from a Christian source.

Finally, Ricoldo cannot believe that the success of Islam is solely due to human success so he adds that ‘But his chief teacher was, I think, the devil.’ Ricoldo is very critical of Islamic law, which he terms ‘rambling, confused, opaque, irrational and violent.’[288] He is obviously contrasting Islamic law with Christian canon law. He gives an account of temporary marriage that was practised as a way of circumventing the Islamic prohibition regarding fornication. Ricoldo even quotes the verse from the Quran that Islamic theologians use to justify their conduct.[289]


John Kantakuzenos 
     – Four Orations Against Muhammad
     – Four Apologies Against the Muslim (Muhammedan) Sect

The anti-Islamic polemical works of John Kantakuzenos consist of Four Apologies and Four Orations Against Muhammad. He was also the author of polemical works against anti-Palamites, like Prochoros Kydones and Isaac Argyros, and a refutation of the Jews.[290]  Assisting him in the composition of his anti-Islamic polemics was a Greek translation of a Latin anti-Muslim polemical tract composed by Ricoldo da Monte Croce, who John specifically acknowledges in his own work ‘a monk of the Order of Preachers – of the name of Ricaldus, went to Babylon…and, having worked much, learned the dialect of the Arabs’.[291] Also of assistance was a convert from Islam named Meletius who had formerly been a member of the Ottoman court. He encouraged John Kantakuzenos to compose his polemical works after a former co-religionist had composed a letter calling for Meletius to return to Islam[292]. Such high-ranking converts were increasingly rare. Meletius would have provided practical advice on Muslim beliefs and customs. In a deluxe contemporary manuscript that contains four of John Kantakuzenos’ theological and polemical tracts is a dual portrait of the emperor as both emperor, in full regalia, and the monk Joasaph. In his left hand he holds a scroll bearing the words ‘Great is the God of the Christians’. These are the words he begins his anti-Islamic works.[293] The interpretation of this is that Kantakuzenos considered his polemical tracts his most significant literary works and something he wished to be remembered for in the future.

In his preface to his Four Apologies Against the Muslim Sect Kantakuzenos expresses his disappointment that conversions of prominent Muslims to Christianity were infrequent.[294] Kantakuzenos makes a direct link between Islam and the Turkish onslaught against Byzantine. He claims that Muslim conversions to Christianity would lessen the wars against Byzantium. The disastrous civil wars that sapped Byzantine strength in the 14th century left little appeal for the Turks except the most idealistic to convert.

Kantakuzenos is aware of the accusations that Muslims made against Christianity. He mentions the Muslims claim that Christians ‘worship three persons, the Father and the Mother and the Son’.[295] This is a direct reference to the Quran injunction that says exactly this. Kantakuzenos then proceeds to vindicate Christian monotheism against these charges. He aware of Islamic determinism and commented on its irreconcilability with the traditional view of human free will to do both good and evil.[296]

In a similar vane to Niketas Byzantinos John Kantakuzenos condemns Islam for being a violent and aggressive religion. He states, ‘What could be worse then such cruelty and misanthropy when they [Muslims] murder the innocent. For whenever the Muslims go to war and one of them falls in battle, they do not blame themselves, as causers of the war…’[297] John Kantakuzenos even confuses the human sacrifice committed by the Turks with Islamic customs, whereas it was actually a pre-Islamic custom still retained by the Turks. Vryonis considers the report of human sacrifice as totally reliable.[298] The important point is that Kantakuzenos was willing to believe that Muslims were willing to commit murder, despite his close ties with Muslims.


Gregory Palamas – Letter on his Captivity

The biography of Gregory Palamas is well known; he was the subject of a contemporary biography by Philotheos Kokkinos and a number of modern studies. Briefly, Gregory Palamas was born in Constantinople to an aristocratic family in 1296 and was set for imperial service but, instead, chose the monastic life. In 1316 he went to Mount Athos where he stayed briefly at Vatopedi and at Lavra. He then joined the skete of Glossia. In 1326 Palamas was ordained priest but continued a life of prayer and contemplation. In 1336 the Hesychast controversy with Barlaam of Calabria broke out. The dispute was over visions of the uncreated light of God during Athonite monks’ contemplative prayer. Palamas was elected Archbishop of Thessalonike in 1347. He was officially canonised soon after his death in 1360.

On a journey to Constantinople Gregory and his companions were captured by the Turks when they stopped off at the city of Kallipolis. He was subsequently held from March 1354 to July 1355. Gregory sent a pastoral letter to his flock recounting his experiences, probably written during his relatively comfortable captivity at Nicaea during the last days of his imprisonment.[299] Gregory’s account makes it clear that Christians under Turkish rule flocked to him and begged him to provide answers to their questions. The Turks used the opportunity to try to humiliate Gregory and the Christian faith ‘as a proof of the ineffectiveness of our faith’.[300] Often under Turkish rule priests and bishops were expelled from their sees, property was confiscated and the church was reduced to poverty and the people were left without leaders to respond to the Muslim propaganda. One of the most commonly asked questions was why God had ‘abandoned’ their nation. It is evident from other sources that the Turkish conquests led to a low morale amongst the Christians who were subsequently easily converted to Islam.

The letter demonstrates Gregory’s relative ignorance of Islamic doctrine. He used his time to familiarise himself with the main areas of dispute and inform his flock. The debate also shows up many of the misconceptions that Muslims had of Christian doctrine; for example the Turks ask Gregory Palamas why the Christians adore the wood of the cross and believe God had a wife.[301] That Gregory’s letter is an authentic account of his encounter with Turkish Muslims is beyond doubt. The points of debate ‘demonstrate a popular rather than a sophisticated knowledge of Islam.’[302] The letter consists of three encounters;

  1. An interview with Ishmael, the grandson of the Emir on the topic of almsgiving
  2. A dialogue with a group known as the Chiones on the Mosaic Law recorded by Taronites, a Christian doctor and friend of Gregory Palamas
  3. An encounter with a Turkish imam (or Tasimanes) at the eastern gate of Nicaea comparing Muhammad and Jesus[303]

Gregory is not afraid to criticise the Turks in the most abusive terms; he calls them ‘this impious and god-hating and all-abominable race – [who] boast that they dominate the Romans [Greek Orthodox] on account of their own faith in God’ and ‘they live a reproachful, inhuman, and God-hating life ….to live a prodigal life in swords and knives, indulging in slavery, murder, plundering, rape, licentiousness, adultery and homosexuality.’[304] It is certain that he was much more courteous in his actual discussions while remaining staunch in his views. His letter was never meant for Turkish eyes so the contents remained unknown to them.

By the conclusion of his captivity Gregory was well informed and had a good understanding of Islam but his experiences led him to dismiss their claims to a divine revelation as baseless. Sahas makes the comment that Palamas was rather ignorant of Islam as revealed by his initial discussion with Ishmael.[305] The limited scope of the discussion between the two on the nature of almsgiving is not conclusive. Certainly, Gregory must have learnt much about Islam during his captivity but it is impossible to measure his knowledge before he was captured. The low level of Turkish morality was probably the deciding factor for Gregory’s rejection of Islam since the Turks claimed that ‘God gives them his consent’ to abuse the helpless Anatolian Christian population. Gregory’s concluding remarks on Muhammad that he propagated Islam by ‘means of war and the sword, with pillage, enslavement and executions’ shows that Islam was to blame for Turkish aggression against the Christians.[306]

At one point, a group called the Chiones, enters debate with Gregory in front of the sultan. They are recent converts to Islam but their identity is uncertain. Meyendorff considers them to be Christian converts to a type of Mosaic Judaism in an effort for them to find some kind of accommodation with the Turks.[307] Sahas sees them as Jewish converts to Islam.[308] Gregory has nothing but scorn for the Chiones and their knowledge. He calls them ‘…men who, taught by the Satan, had studied nothing else but blasphemies and shameful things…’[309] The Chiones try to argue that circumcision is a necessity since it is in the Old Testament but Gregory silences them as being inconsistent. He says that ‘Since you are referring to the old law and to what was handed down by God to the Hebrews at the time – for traditions of God also were the keeping of the Sabbath, the Jewish Passover, sacrifices which were to be offered exclusively by the priests, the altar in the interior of the temple, and the dividing curtain – since all these and other such things have also been handed down by God, why do you not cherish any of them and you do not practice them?”[310] Neither the sultan nor the Chiones seem to be aware of the usual Islamic retort of Scriptural corruption.

The final dispute with Tasimanes on the divinity of Christ caused huge crowds to gather. Tasimanes is aware of the traditional charge of Scriptural corruption and claims that ‘There was reference to Muhammad in the Gospel but you cut it out’.[311] He also uses Muslim victories as an indication of Islamic truth. Gregory responds with the usual defence that the Gospel is too widespread to be altered in every place. It is, however, his response to the second proof that is telling. He says ‘Muhammad marched from the East and he progressed victoriously to the West. He did so, however, by means of war and the sword, with pillage, enslavement and executions, none of which has its origin in God…’[312] Gregory, as a good Byzantine, even brings up Alexander the Great, as a similar example of a great conqueror. The difference was that others did not entrust their souls to Alexander on account of his victories. As the dispute was growing heated Gregory called it to a halt, probably fearing violence on behalf of the Turks.


Manuel II Palaeologos – Dialogue with a Persian

Manuel lived in the time of terminal political and economic decline for the Byzantine Empire. He was the second son of the emperor John V Palaeologos. He rejected his father’s personal conversion to Roman Catholicism and remained staunchly Orthodox all his life. He was born in Constantinople in 1350 and named co-emperor in 1373. He succeeded his father as sole emperor in 1391 and ruled until 1425 when, after a long illness, he renounced the world and became a monk. He died soon afterwards. His foreign policy alternated between serving as a vassal to the Turks to finding western help against them. To that end Manuel made a long futile journey to the west between 1399-1403, visiting leaders like the Pope and the kings of France and England, trying to find military assistance against the Turks.

In 1391 Manuel was forced to campaign in eastern Anatolia as the vassal of the Ottoman sultan Bayazid. In the best tradition of Byzantine emperor-theologians, Manuel composed a dialogue of the discussions he had with Turkish Muslims under the title Dialogue Which was Held with a Certain Persian, the Worthy Mouterizes, in Ankyra in Galatia he had with Muslim scholars he met during the campaign.[313] The interpreter for the discussion was a bilingual Greek who had voluntarily converted to Islam. This interpreter was not completely trusted by his Muslim lord so the muderris of Ankyra and his sons would converse with each other in Persian during difficult points during the dialogue.[314] By the time Manuel was writing the tide had definitely turned against Christianity. ‘The Turks had greater powers of assimilation than the Latins. There were many more Turks, and they promoted conversion to Islam, which virtually insured that a Greek’s descendants would consider themselves Turks. As the Turks raided and conquered, they enslaved many Christians, selling some in other Muslim regions and hindering the rest from practicing their faith.’[315]

Unlike more literary dialogues within Byzantine polemical literature there is every indication that Manuel’s work is an authentic account of an actual discussion. Manuel had read earlier polemics against Islam so was rather well informed and prepared for a discussion. Vryonis concludes that Manuel had read the polemics of John Kantakuzenos, and in turn was influenced by Demetrius Kydones and Ricoldo.[316] Manuel chose to use the name ‘Persian’ for the Turks because he was following conventional classicising vocabulary of Byzantine intellectuals. About half of the Dialogue with a Persian concerns Manuel’s defence of the doctrine of the Trinity.[317]  The Trinity was central part of Orthodox doctrine. Its acceptance implies other key doctrines like the Incarnation, Resurrection, etc., so Manuel was wise to concern himself with this key doctrine.

The Emperor stated: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Many Muslims were offended by what was perceived as a denigration of Muhammad. In his book, Manuel II then continues, saying, “God is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...”

Manuel’s correspondence contains few references to the Turkish threat to the empire with the exception of a letter penned in 1391, and addressed to Demetrius Cydones. It is numbered as Letter 16 in the corpus of Manuel’s letters and was written at the same time as the Dialogue. The letters paints a black picture of the state of Anatolia under the Turks. Cities are desolate and depopulated to such an extent that their names have been forgotten. ‘It has been deserted by the inhabitants[318], who have fled to the clefts in the rocks, to the forests, and to the mountain heights in an effort to escape a death from which there is no escape, a very cruel and inhuman death without any semblance of justice…Nobody is spared, neither very young children nor defenceless women. For those whom old age or illness prevents from running away there is no hope of escaping the murderous blade.’[319] Manuel claims that the lawlessness was so great that even Muslim holy men, or ‘Muslims priests’ as Manuel dubs them, are victims of Turkish aggression. This puzzling statement could refer to various Shi’ite or syncretist Muslim imams or perhaps bystanders who got in the way of assaults.


Diplomatic Correspondence

Leo III – Letter of Leo III to Umar

There exists, incorporated into the History of the Armenian historian Ghevond a set of letters written between the Caliph Umar II (717-720) and Byzantine emperor Leo (717-741) at the beginning of the eighth century. The authenticity of the correspondence between Leo III and Umar II has been hotly disputed but the scholarly consensus is that the letters are substantially genuine. Arthur Jeffery is of the opinion that the correspondence is genuine[320] and this is supported by John Meyendorff.[321] Of the modern scholars John Tolan rejects the authenticity of Leo’s response as a ‘clumsy attempt’ at forgery by Ghevond on the authority of Gaudel.[322] Jeffery’s examination of the evidence suggests there is nothing improbable about Umar’s and Leo’s correspondence. Byzantine, Armenian and Christian Arabic historians all mention the correspondence.[323] Jeffery, however, is quite willing to accept that Leo’s response has been interloped and expanded by some unknown ‘monkish’ editor.

There are Islamic traditions that Muhammad sent letters to the leaders[324] of the world to convert to Islam. The authenticity of this correspondence is highly doubtful but it inspired other rulers to emulate Muhammad.

Leo’s Letter to Umar shows he is aware of the contents of the Quran and an extensive number of Muslim traditions and arguments. Leo grew up on the Byzantine/Muslim frontier so his knowledge might have been from first hand experience or he might have had some help from court theologians in drafting the letter.

Leo rejects the heavenly origin of the Quran but he does not resort to the usual claim that the monk Bahira or renegade Jewish Rabbis were responsible for the teaching of Muhammad. He states that it was Umar, Ali and Salman the Persian who composed the Quran. The divine authorship was merely ‘rumour’ that had spread amongst the Arabs.[325] This seems to be a combination of the various stories of Muhammad’s teachers and the collection of the Quran under the early Caliphs.  Leo singles out the reference in the Quran to Miriam (Mary, the mother of Jesus) being the sister of Aaron and daughter of Amram as an example of the absurdities in the Quran. Leo takes this to mean that Muhammad has confused the two personalties due to the similarity of names despite there being 1370 years difference between the two… ‘The Christ, according to the promise of God, ought to come from the tribe according to the promise of God, ought to come from the tribe of Judah, whereas Miriam, the daughter of Amram, belonged to that of Levi. Your objections are full of inconsequences, and offer nothing but a multitude of gross and inadmissible falsifications. The source of so many such subterfuges and contradictions is naught but human invention…’[326] The ‘objections’ probably refer to Muslim explanations of Mary being Aaron’s sister as a figurative expression but Leo will have none of this because Mary was not from the priestly Levite tribe but rather from David’s tribe, that of Judah.

The Sirat Rasual Allah of Ibn Ishaq mentions John 15:23 that the Paraclete is a prophecy of Muhammad.[327] Leo totally rejects this interpretation of the passage. If Leo was responsible for the letter then this was the earliest reference to this Islamic apologetic point. Leo also knows of the Muslim claim that Abraham built the Kaaba in Mecca. He knows perfectly well that the Kaaba was ‘pagan altar of sacrifice not the House of Abraham that Muslims claimed.’[328] Leo strongly implies on this point that despite their claims to monotheism, Muslims are stained with a crypto-paganism. This is a recurring theme in other Byzantine polemics.[329] Leo is even aware of the incident of Zeynab when he states ‘he [Muhammad] succeeded in seducing the woman Zeda’ in his discussion of the immorality of Islamic sexual ethics.[330]

Leo was accurately informed of other points of controversy such as Islamic Christology, the charge of tampering with the Scripture and that Muslim conquests were a vindication of the truth of Islamic claims to be divinely inspired. Interestingly enough these same arguments are still used today by Muslim apologists.


Arethas of Caesarea in Cappadocia – Letter to the Emir of Damascus

Arethas was a well-known personality in tenth-century Byzantium. He was born in the city of Patras in the mid-ninth century. He was educated in Constantinople, probably by Photius, the great scholar and Patriarch of Constantinople. He was renowned as a classical scholar and author. He wrote scholia on a number of classical authors such as Plato, Aristotle, Lucian and Dio Chrysostom. He was appointed Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia in 902 but spent most of his time in Constantinople. He seems to have died some time around 932.[331]

Among the minor works of Arethas exists a letter refuting Islam in the most abusive and blunt terms. The authorship of the letter is disputed. Some scholars like Daniel Sahas[332] and Patricia Karlin-Hayter are willing to acknowledge Arethas’ authorship while others like Romily Jenkins deny the authorship. Jenkins even goes as far as to claim the authorship actually belongs to a diplomat named Leo Choirosphactes. Whatever the authorship, it is doubtful that the letter would have ever been sent. Not only would it have caused diplomatic uproar but no Muslim would have been convinced by its arguments. The letter probably circulated as a scurrilous pamphlet among Arethas’ circle of literary friends.

The letter itself deals with many of the same topics of previous polemics. Sahas divides the letter into thirteen sections:

  1. The title which states ‘To the Emir of Damascus at the instigation of Romanos the King’
  2. Acknowledgement of receiving of previous correspondence from the emir
  3. An opening remark on Islam
  4. The truth and reliability of Christianity
  5. On the divinity of Jesus and a comparison between Jesus and Adam
  6. The divinity of Jesus and a comparison between Jesus and Ezekiel
  7. Muslim misconceptions about the divinity of Jesus
  8. The veneration of the cross
  9. Defense of the divinity of Jesus
  10. Military success and religious truth
  11. A critique of Muslim teaching on Paradise
  12. The meaning and purpose of the incarnation
  13. Closing of the letter

Arethas can hardly be accused to ignorance regarding Islam; not only did he go on a diplomatic mission to Egypt and Syria for the emperor but he also copied works by Theodore Abu Qurrah. The letter itself begins with an insulting statement:

But how did you venture to call the faith of the Saracens pure and immaculate…Isn’t that a faith full of filth, that subjects you mostly to sexual acts with women and many other shameful and improper deeds?[333]

The letter goes on to deal with the standard topics like the veracity of the incarnation and the divinity of Jesus against the misconceptions of the Muslims. Arethas uses the proof of the Old Testament prophecies, the miracles of Jesus and the success of Christianity ‘through poor and simple men, twelve in number.’  Arethas even knows of the Muslim comparisons of Jesus to Adam and Ezekiel that try to disprove the uniqueness of Jesus. Adam was used because, like Jesus, he had no father and Ezekiel was used because he raised people from the dead. The most insulting aspect of the letter is Arethas’ attack on the Muslim understanding of Heaven. Meyendorff, who rejects the Arethan authorship, says of the work that ‘the pamphlet consists essentially of a number of jokes in poor taste about the Muslim concept of Paradise.’[334] Arethas takes the high moral ground in his attack on Islam. He was renowned as a staunch defender of the canons of the church and it would be expected that he took the moral code of the canons quite seriously too. He finds the polygamy, concubines, easy divorce and the carnal understanding of paradise all distasteful. For example, Arethas states that if in Heaven there would be eternal eating and drinking then Heaven would be overflowing with excrement as a result. He states ‘Thus you and your paradise are full of excrement and stink. Where, then, are you going to find so much perfume in order to anoint yourselves with, as you are doing now in this life, which is so corruptible.’[335] This letter points to a widespread popular knowledge in Byzantium of the Muslim concept of paradise. The jokes were probably circulating around Constantinople and Arethas probably picked them up form there. Arethas resorts to sarcasm and exaggeration but he does not totally misrepresent his enemies. There were many Muslims who took a literal understanding of Heaven.


Michael III – Letter in Response to the Hagarenes

In the middle of the ninth century the Emperor Michael received a letter ‘From the Hagarenes (Arabs)’ calling him to convert to Islam. Michael passed the letter on to his court theologians and two responses were written by Niketas of Byzantium.[336] Niketas opened with the important point that the Christian concept of the Trinity was not at odds with the Islamic concept of monotheism. Niketas is less overtly aggressive in these letters than in his polemical treatise pointing to a difference between the polemics directed toward a Christian audience and the requirements of ‘diplomatic courtesy’. It is unclear if the letter were ever sent but there is ample evidence of a lively correspondence so it is not beyond the bounds of plausibility. Translating the letter into Arabic would not have been much of an obstacle at this stage as there were plenty of bilingual translators in Greek and Arabic in both the Byzantine Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate.


Nicholas Mysticus – Letter to the Emir

Nicholas was born in southern Italy to Greek-speaking parents in 852. He was a friend and possibly student of Photius. He rose through the ranks of the clergy. He was appointed Mysticus (or Patriarchal secretary) by Emperor Leo VI and eventually succeeded to the Patriarchal throne in 901. Nicholas refused to support the emperor on the issue of his fourth marriage (known as the Tetragamy Controversy), was deposed in 907, and was replaced by Euthymios. He was restored to the Patriarchate by Romanos and served in the office until his death in 925.[337]

Nicholas was author of a series of minor works including an extensive correspondence, poetry and sermons. The letter was originally thought to have been addressed to the Emir of Crete but Romilly Jenkins comprehensively proved that this was a misreading and in actuality, the letter was addressed to the caliph al-Muktadir (908-932) in Baghdad.[338] The letter is dated between August 913 and February 914.[339]

The most striking aspect of Nicholas’ Letter to the Emir is its civility and the cordial manner which he addresses the caliph despite the long history of animosity between the Muslims and the Byzantine Empire. Friendly remarks include the term ‘most glorious and brilliant Emir’ and ‘my beloved friend’ in the opening subscription. Nicholas even composed a homily on Thessalonike so he knew perfectly well the savagery with which the Arab pirates had treated the citizens when the city was captured in 904,[340] a mere decade before the letter. It is apparent that Nicholas is using the same kind of discretion that Niketas of Byzantium used in his letter on behalf of Michael III. The most famous statement of Nicholas is that in which he views the Byzantine Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate as the two great earthy powers. His exact words are ‘…there are two lordships, that of the Saracens and that of the Romans, which stand above all lordship on earth, and shine out like two mighty beacons in the firmament.’[341]

Nicholas chastises the caliph for the treatment of the Christians of Cyprus. The Byzantines had a treaty with the caliphate in which Cyprus was treated as a demilitarized zone, which the Byzantines had broken. The Muslim powers had retaliated by attacking the island, bringing ‘…swords and wars and murders…on the miserable Cyprians.’[342] The perpetrator of the atrocities was a Christian apostate named Damian. In contrast to the majority of Byzantine authors, Nicholas stresses that this behaviour was not in accordance with the traditional tolerance displayed towards the Christians of Cyprus. Nicholas gives the caliph a history lesson of the three hundred years of the treaty about the neutral status of Cyprus. He even calls the Muslims ‘the law-abiding Saracens’. Nicholas calls Damian ‘…a disgrace to the Saracen religion’, ‘the most criminal Damian’ and speaks of the ‘brutality and inhumanity of Damian’, implying that the violence perpetuated by Damian was not in accordance with Islam but rather he was acting as a renegade and the excesses are totally his own.


Homilies and Sermons

Sophronius of Jerusalem – Homilies

Sophronius was born in Damascus in ca. 560 and died in Jerusalem on March 11th, 638. He spent his early years as a wandering teacher and was friends with John Moschus, author of the Spiritual Meadow. He is referred to as Sophronius the Sophist in the works of John Moschus. With John Moschus Sophronius went to Egypt, Palestine and Rome but he eventually returned to Palestine and joined a monastery. Due to his staunch opposition to Monoenergism Sophronius was appointed Patriarch of Jerusalem in 634. He witnessed the Arab conquest of Palestine and surrendered Jerusalem to Caliph Umar in 638.[343]

Sophronius was author of a number of extant works. These include 23 Anacreontic Odes on liturgical feasts in classical meter, a Synodal Letter against Monoenergism, a series of homilies on liturgical feasts and an Encomium on Saints Kyros and John. It is Sophronius’ homilies that are important to Byzantine responses to Islam due to their references to current events and their early date.

The first important reference is in Sophronius’ Nativity (or Christmas) Homily. He makes this statement to his audience: ‘We, however, because of our innumerable sins and serious misdemeanours, are unable to see these things, and are prevented from entering Bethlehem by way of road. Unwillingly, indeed, contrary to our wishes, we are required to stay at home, not bound closely by bodily bonds, but bound by fear of the Saracens.’[344] The Christians could not make their traditional journey to Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas owing to the chaos caused by the Arab invasions. The motif of Christians being punished for their sins is the way that Sophronius understands the invasion. This was already an old motif by the time Sophronius was writing and was to reappear for the entire period of time that Byzantine Christians encountered Islam.

Another reference comes from an Epiphany Homily. The information is lengthy and more informative but far from clear. Sophronius states: ‘However, the present circumstances are forcing me to think differently about our way of life, for why are [so many] wars being fought among us? Why do barbarian raids abound? Why are the troops of the Saracens attacking us? Why has there been so much destruction and plunder? Why are there incessant outpourings of human blood? Why have churches been pulled down? Why is the cross mocked? Why is Christ, who is joyousness of ours, blasphemed by pagan mouths so that he justly cries out to us: “Because of you my name is blasphemed among the pagans,” and this is the worst of all the terrible things that are happening to us. That is why the vengeful and God-hating Saracens, the abomination of desolation clearly foretold to us by the prophets, overrun the places which are not allowed to them, plunder cities, devastate fields, burn down villages, set on fire the holy churches, overturn sacred monasteries, oppose the Byzantine armies arrayed against them, and in fighting raise up the trophies [of victory in war] and add victory to victory.’[345]

The most obvious fact revealed by the text is the violence that the invasions brought to the province. Often the initial invasion is portrayed as practically bloodless due to the speedy collapse of Byzantine resistance. However, even with typical rhetorical exaggeration of Byzantine literature, Sophronius paints a blood-chilling portrait. Also noticeable is the references to the Arabs as ‘pagans’. Was Sophronius aware that they were monotheists or was he relying on his own extensive reading of classical ethnography? Or perhaps Sophronius had heard that the Arabs were monotheists but their actions made him doubt this? Other questions also arise. The first question is whether the targeting of Christian symbols like churches and crosses is a result of Islam or just part of the general destruction. The mention that the cross is ‘mocked’ has a distinctive Islamic ring to it. Sophronius, at this early date, probably did not know of the Quranic denial of the crucifixion but he is likely to have witnessed the tearing down of crosses as specified in the Pact of Umar.


Pseudo-Chrysostom – Sermon on the Pseudo-Prophets

Among the numerous spuria attributed to John Chrysostom is a homily concerned with heretical prophets who were troubling the community in Antioch. The reference in the homily to the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite places the homily beyond the lifetime of John Chrysostom as the works were first cited in the 530s by Monophysite supporters of Severus of Antioch. An analysis of the work by Alice Whealey places the homily in Antioch due to the references to local saints like Evodius and Ignatius.[346] The use of Greek as a literary language and the parallels to an apocalypse attributed to Hippolytus places the homily sometime in the seventh or eighth centuries. The seventh century was a time of famine and war and it resulted in much apocalyptic speculation.[347] The author may or may not have been named John as it was a common name in antiquity and misattributed to the more famous John Chrysostom.

The main target of the Homily on the Pseudo-Prophets is some unnamed heretics in Antioch but there seem to be some allusions to Islam. The Christians are warned from eating ‘pagan sacrifices.’ However, in the seventh century there were no pagans in Antioch so the term must refer to Muslims.[348] The term ‘pagans’ was often applied to Muslims by the Byzantines.  Perhaps the Antiochian preacher was struck by the distinctive dietary practices of Islam. The mention of those who ‘hate the Word of God’ might be a reference to Islamic Christology. Calling Jesus a mere prophet might well have been interpreted as hating the Word (logos) of God by denying His divinity.

The reference to wars between the kingdoms in the homily refers to the conflict between the Byzantines and the Umayyad caliphate. The political understanding of the war between kingdoms was a typical Byzantine reaction to the Islamic conquests. The religious nature of the Islamic conquests as a conflict between rival religious systems was not at the forefront of Byzantine thinking at this early point.

The discussion of false prophets in the homily might refer to Muhammad as Whealey considers the attack on the false prophets distinct from that against heretics.[349] The problem with this interpretation is that the homily refers to ‘false prophets’ not a single false prophet as Muhammad would be later viewed. Does this mean that the Antiochian preacher was unaware that the Muslims had only one prophet or did he consider the caliphs somehow as prophets? The solution is unclear. The homily demonstrates only rudimentary knowledge of Islam and even then, it is synthesised in a Christian context. The Antiochian preacher does not even seem to distinguish Islam as a separate religion.


Gregory Dekapolites – Historical Sermon on What the Saracen Saw

Gregory was born in the city of Eirenopolis, in the Isaurian Dekapolis (hence the surname Dekapolites) before 797 and died in 842. After completing his elementary education, Gregory stayed at a monastery run by his maternal uncle for 14 years. After this time, Gregory left the monastery and proceeded to travel widely. He spent time in Ephesus, Constantinople, Thessalonike, Sicily, Rome and then Mt Olympus. He lived through the second period of iconoclasm but did not suffer any persecution because of his iconophile sympathies. Ignatios the Deacon wrote a hagiographic Life of Gregory the Dekapolite soon after Gregory’s death.[350] This life contains an incident where a Saracen soldier tried to kill Gregory in Italy but his hand immediately withered when he tried to strike Gregory.

The Historical Sermon on What the Saracen Saw is the only extant work by Gregory. It is a sermon on the conversion of a Muslim prince, who is converted to Christianity by a miraculous vision of the Christ child in the Eucharist. The historicity of the events described by the sermon have been doubted by some owing to the miracles and the existence of a number of similar parallel tales.[351] In the version translated by Daniel Sahas[352] he places the setting in Egypt but Hoyland sees the term Ampelos as a corruption of Rempli, the Greek version of Ramala (Diospolis). The church and the priest that the Saracen attended was evidently a Melkite, hence the passing of the story on to Gregory, and this indicates that the setting was Palestine. Most likely there were no Melkite churches in rural Egypt in the ninth century.

The sermon was written in Greek so it was probably written for an audience within the Byzantine Empire. The audience would have enjoyed the exotic setting and entertaining story. This explains the survival of the text. There is a distinctive contrast between the behaviour of the Saracen before his conversion and his behaviour afterwards in the account. The conversion calmed the convert and made him ready to face martyrdom. The persecutor has become a new man. Before his conversion he is described as ‘pitiless and stubborn’.[353]

The narrative shows some sympathy for the Emir, who is reluctant to execute his kinsman, but he is prompted by his advisors and the attack on Muhammad as a false prophet to execute the Christian convert. The irony of the situation would not have been lost on Gregory’s audience.

The Emir laughed again and said to the officials who had gathered in the palace: “This man is mindless. What shall we do with him? Take him out and expel him.” Those, however, sitting by the king said: “He meant to desecrate and corrupt the religion of the Saracens. Do you not hear how he curses and anathematizes our great prophet?”

The monk and former Saracen cried out loudly: “I feel sorry for you Emir because you, unfortunate one, do not want to be saved. Believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, the crucified one, and anathematize the religion of the Saracens and their false prophet, as I did.” And the Saracen Emir said: “Take him out as I am ordering you. He is mindless and does not know what he is talking about.” Those sitting by with him said: “Well, you heard that he anathematized the religion of the Saracens and that he is blaspheming against the great prophet, and you say, ‘He does not know what he is talking about?’ If you do not have him killed we will also go and become Christians.”


Isidore Glabas of Thessalonike – Homily on the Seizure of the Children

Isidore was Metropolitan of Thessalonike during the turmoil at the end of the fourteenth century. Isidore was born in 1341 and had the baptismal name of John before he became a monk in April 1375. He became bishop in 1380 but withdrew in 1383 to Constantinople during the Turkish siege of Thessalonike. Isidore was briefly deposed from his position at this time. He returned in 1386 and remained in position for the next decade until his death. He travelled to Asia Minor in 1387 to negotiate with the Turks on behalf of the citizens of Thessalonike. He died in office in 1396.[354]

Isidore’s Homily on the Seizure of the Children is an early reference to the practice of levying young children from the non-Muslim population of the Ottoman Empire and forcibly converting them to Islam as Janissaries. Isidore considers the practice to be inhuman in the extreme. The introduction to the homily indicates that it was delivered during the First Sunday of Lent in 1395.[355] Typical of the time Isidore offers the explanation that the Turkish conquests were a result of the sins of the Byzantines.

The homily demonstrates a number of common features with previous works. It sees the Turks as God’s instruments in punishing the sinful Byzantines, a recurring motif in Byzantine religious literature. Isidore seems to think that the devsirme was a typical feature of Islam. Certainly the tradition of slave-soldiers was old, going back to the early Abbasid Empire. It found its fruition in the Turkish Gulum of the 11th century and the Mamluks of Egypt but there was nothing specifically Islamic about the practice.

Isidore refers to the Turks as ‘infidels’ and ‘barbarians’ rather than Muslims or Turks in his homily. The anguish that Isidore feels for the parents whose children have been taken is clearly seen in the homily:

For what would a man not suffer, were he to see the child he had begotten, whom he had raised, for whose sake his eyes had shed many tears many times, praying that [his son] would attain the pinnacle of happiness – [what would he not suffer, were he to see this child] seized by the hands of men from another race suddenly and violently and forced to change over to strange habits and expected to become soon thereafter the [bearer] of barbaric garb and speech and the vessel of impiety and other foulness.[356]

Isidore is concerned that not only are the children converted to Islam, which he calls ‘impiety’ and ‘foulness’ but also that they are being assimilated into another culture. To convert to Islam was to be assimilated into Turkish culture.


Liturgical References

Pseudo-Niketas Chionites – Formula of Abjuration

There exists a document entitled the Formula of Abjuration for Muslim converts to Christianity. The full title of the formula is ‘Order followed for those of the Saracens who return to the pure and true faith of us Christians’.[357] It is ascribed to Niketas Chionites in manuscripts, probably due to the account of the controversy regarding the formula contained in his Roman History and his reputation as a lay theologian, but this is rejected by all modern scholars.[358] The text consists of 22 anathemas against Muslim beliefs. The convert is required to curse Muhammad, the relatives of Muhammad and all the caliphs up to Yazid (680-683). Other anathemas are directed against the Quran, the Islamic concept of paradise and polygamy.[359]  These were the doctrines that the Byzantines found most objectionable about Islam. The most famous anathema was that against ‘the God of Muhammad, of whom he [Muhammad] says that he is one God, holosphyros, who neither begat nor was begotten, and no-one has been made like him’. The origin of the text, in all probability, goes back to the ninth century as one of the suppositions regarding a ‘solid’ (holosphyros) God of the Muslims goes back to the polemics of Niketas of Byzantium.[360] The text presupposes a need for a ceremony for converts to Christianity, which was the case in the late ninth and tenth centuries as Byzantium was militarily ascendant. The text does not indicate the liturgical requirements for the converts, perhaps because it depended on the individual. Theoretically it may have been used for both returning apostates, those originally baptised as Christians but subsequently turning to Islam and then, realising their error, returning to Christianity and those who were born and raised as Muslims but, for whatever reasons, wished to embrace Christianity. Most probably it was converts in the first category that made most use of the formula as direct converts from Islam to Christianity were never a large group. The rubric of the Formula of Abjuration indicates that non-Greek speakers used it. Presumably, they were Arabic-speaking converts. It states that ‘if he [the initiate] happens to speak no Greek’ he could give consent through an interpreter.[361] The main conversion traffic was definitely in the direction of Christianity to Islam. The formula shows similarities to the formulas used for Jewish and Manichean converts to Christianity.[362]

It is often overlooked that the Formula of Abjuration is actually an accurate account of those Islamic doctrines that Christians found incompatible with Christianity. That the formula was actually used is beyond doubt. Prospective converts would hardly anathematise beliefs they did not hold. They certainly would have pointed this out to those in authority if that was the case. The Formula of Abjuration is evidence that the Orthodox Church had practical experience with Muslim converts and that some Muslims did find Christianity appealing enough to convert. This can be seen by the constant flow of converts like Beser under Leo and Thephobos under Theophilus during the lengthy history of the Byzantine Empire. An Arabic Muslim historian, Al-Qalanisi in his Damascus Chronicle, mentions in passing that when the castle of Buza in 1138 was captured by Byzantine forces the qadi and four hundred other Muslims converted to Christianity.[363] These converts almost certainly used some version of the Abjuration Formula.


Methodius, Patriarch of Constantinople – Order of Service

Methodius was a monk of southern Italian origin. He was imprisoned and tortured under Emperor Michael II for his support of icons during the revival of iconoclasm in the ninth century. When the Empress Theodora restored icon veneration in 843, at the death of her husband Theophilus, she freed Methodius and appointed him patriarch in place of the previous patriarch who refused to recant his iconoclastic views. Methodius served as patriarch from 843 until his death in June 847.[364]

A short work by Patriarch Methodius of Constantinople called Order about those various persons and ages who have denounced and are returning to the Orthodox and true faith concerns how returning apostates were to be treated by the ecclesiastical authorities. Being a level headed and saintly individual Methodius gives practical and reasonable advice. He divides prospective converts into three groups; those who had apostatized as children who were captured and ‘denounced their faith out of fear, naïveté or ignorance’, those who were older and were coerced or tortured into renouncing their faith, and finally, those renegades who abandoned their ancestral religion of their own free will. For the first group Methodius prescribes seven days prayer and chrismation, for the second group Methodius requires fasting for ‘two Lents’ and then chrismation and the final group is received back but is banned from taking communion for life.[365]

The Order of Conversion is a testimony that reversion to Christianity was fairly common in this period. The document can be seen as a practical handbook rather than some abstract theoretical tract. Methodius had obviously put a lot of thought into his categories. The relative leniency of the first category demonstrates that, despite Islamic prohibitions on forced conversion it was very common, even in this relatively early period. The constant wars probably resulted in a constant flow of Christian slaves into Muslim territory. The pressure to convert must have been enormous, which few children would have been able to resist.

While never expressed in the text it seems that the conversion would have occurred within the territory of the Byzantine Empire. There would have been little inclination for slaves to revert to Christianity under Islamic rule as the penalty was rather harsh.


Miscellaneous References

The Doctrine of Jacob the Newly Baptised Jew

The Doctrina Jacobi is a Greek apologetic tract resulting from the decree of Emperor Heraclius that all Jews in the Byzantine Empire be baptised.  The date of the tract seems to be 634 and the setting is Carthage, capital of the Roman province of Africa.[366] The tract is in the form of a dialogue between a recently baptised Jew named Jacob and a group of Jews. In the prologue, a man named Joseph claims to have written the account. Jacob had been forcibly baptised but he had become genuinely convinced of the truth of Christianity and tried to convince his fellow Jews to abide by their baptisms. One of the leading protagonists is a friend of Jacob’s named Justus, recently arrived from Palestine. The tract introduces a letter from Abraham, Justus’ brother, recounting events at home.

A false prophet has appeared among the Saracens… “He is an impostor. Do the prophets come with swords and chariot? Truly these happenings today are the works of disorder…But you go off, Master Abraham, and find out about the prophet who has appeared.” So I, Abraham, made enquiries, and was told by those who had met him: “There is no truth to be found in the so-called prophet, only bloodshed; for he says he has the keys of paradise, which is incredible.[367]

The tract is the earliest reference to Muhammad outside the Quran. It makes some interesting points but there are some curious features. It asserts that Muhammad was still alive at the time of the dialogue (634), two years later than the traditional date of Muhammad’s death. It also suggests that the Islamic invasion had some messianic overtones. Even at this early stage the Jihad and Islamic concept of paradise seem to have made an impression. The level of understanding must have been rudimentary and not dependent on texts but rather observation and oral communication.


Anastasius of Sinai – The Hodegos (The Guide)

The exact identity of Anastasius is a controversial issue as no reliable biographical information survives outside of the corpus of his own works. The historian Eutychios of Alexandria (877-940) makes the claim that Anastasius was the monastic name of the retired Byzantine general Mahan (Vahan) who was defeated by the Arabs at Yarmuk.[368] The authenticity of the works attributed to Anastasius is also unclear. What is clear is that Anastasius was a monk from the monastery of St. Catherine sometime during the seventh century. There are about a dozen works attributed to Anastasius, including ‘a collection of Interrogations et Responsiones,[369] a commentary on Psalm 6 and a Good Friday sermon’.[370]

Traditionally John of Damascus is seen as the first Orthodox theologian to write a theological response to Islam but it has become increasingly clear that the works Anastasius contain references to Islam more than a generation before John.[371] Anastasius’ principal work was titled the Hodegos (or the Guide). Sidney H. Griffith considers it to date before the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680/81.[372] The main purpose of the Hodegos was to counter the claims of the Monophysites so all references to Islamic theology are considered incidental There are three points that seem to reflect a refutation of Islamic belief. Firstly, Anastasius condemns those who claim Christians believe in two gods or that god gave birth to a son in a physical sense. Secondly, he condemns Arabs, along with Jews, Pagans and Manicheans, for not accepting the Scriptures in their entirety but selectively. Finally, he groups Monophysites and Arabs together as misunderstanding the words ‘nature’ and ‘bearing’ [giving birth].[373] The incidental nature of the references to Islamic doctrine can be illustrated by a quote from the last reference:

Whenever they[374] hear ‘natures’, they think they are shameful and outrageous things, the members which essentially go with the bodies of men and women. Thanks to this, they flee from such an expression, as if they were pupils of the Saracens. For these people, hearing the birth of God, or the generation of God, immediately thinking of marriage, blasphemously speak of insemination and carnal union.[375]

Anastasius never refers to the Muslim religion or Muhammad in his writing.[376] The term Arab and Saracen that he uses are pre-Islamic ethnic terms that had no religious connotation at first. However, it is clear he is referring to Islamic beliefs and customs and not pagan Arabs. Daniel Sahas confirms that Anastasius is dealing with Islam but also recognises that it is on a very rudimentary level when he states that ‘Anastasius Sinaites lacks the sophistication and the comprehensiveness of John of Damascus on matters regarding Islam.’[377]


Germanus of Constantinople – Letter to Thomas of Claudiopolis

Germanus was Patriarch of Constantinople at the start of the iconoclastic controversy. Germanus does not demonstrate any detailed knowledge of Islam but he does make one interesting reference in his Letter to Thomas of Claudiopolis.[378] Thomas was a proto-iconoclastic bishop from Anatolia.

Germanus states ‘the Saracens, in the desert, address themselves to an inanimate stone and make an invocation to the so-called ‘chobar’.’[379]  Germanus has heard of the black stone in the Kabaah and its veneration by Muslims but links it to paganism. He is either unaware of the Islamic traditions regarding the black stone (sent by God) and the Kabaah (built by Abraham) or chooses to ignore them; most probably the later. The significance is that Germanus refuses to believe that these practices owe anything to Judeo-Christian tradition. He knows the Islamic invocation of ‘Allahu Akbar’ but confuses this with the name of a pre-Islamic goddess. Germanus is perfectly aware of the classical Arab ethnography contained in Herodotus and Strabo. This is a theme that reoccurs in other polemicists like John of Damascus and Niketas of Byzantium. A possible explanation of the confusion of Byzantine authors on this point is that they were aware of a pre-Islamic invocation to Aphrodite and they confused the Islamic invocation with the pre-Islamic.[380]

It is often claimed that Germanus was ignorant of everything relating to Islam. Hoyland, for example, expresses doubt but forgets that Germanus was present during the two great Islamic sieges of Constantinople. The sieges may not have given Germanus the opportunity to explore Islam in detail but his own observations would have let him see that Muslims rejected images and recited the tashahhud[381] and the Allahu Akbar.[382] He even composed a sermon commemorating the deliverance of the city.[383] He probably did not have access to any Islamic texts like the Quran or religious treatises but rather his own observations and hearsay. All the references to Islam that Germanus supplies point to this as his source of information.


Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council

The Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council that denounced iconoclasm include a discussion on the origin of the hatred of icons.  The presbyter John gave an account that attributed iconoclasm to the caliphs and said so at the council. John was from the caliphate so had first hand knowledge of the policies of the caliphs. ‘When Omar had died, he was succeeded by Yazid, a frivolous and fickle man….Won over by the promise of longevity…the senseless tyrant replied: “Anything you suggest to me I shall readily do…” Whereupon, the Jewish sorcerer said to him, “Give an order without delay or postponement, be it on boards or in wall-mosaic or on holy vessels or alter-cloths, or anything else of the sort that is found in all Christian churches should be obliterated and entirely destroyed.” …The wicked tyrant was easily persuaded by him and sent out emissaries throughout his dominions to pull down the holy icons and other images….The most-holy bishop of Messene said: “I, too, was a boy in Syria when the Caliph of the Saracens was destroying images.”’[384] In this account, the Muslims who desecrate churches are called ‘miserable Arabs.’

The Iconoclastic controversy cemented the perception in the minds of the Byzantines that Islam was militantly anti-image (anti-icons). The Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council demonstrate that most Byzantines were convinced that Iconoclasm within the Byzantine Empire had been inspired by Islam. Leo III had been raised in Arab territory and was often accused by his Iconophile opponents as ‘Saracen-minded.’ Theophanes the Confessor even claimed that Leo III had as his accomplice a former Muslim named Beser, who shared his Iconoclastic views (From the Year 6215 (722/23 AD).[385]


Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius

The original language of the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius was Syriac but it was quickly translated in Greek.[386] It was one of the few Syriac texts to have this privilege. Later the text was translated into Latin and Slavonic, resulting in an even wider distribution. The author seems to have been a Chalcedonian Christian writing in Syriac due to his loyalty to the Byzantine Empire and the popularity of the work among Chalcedonian audiences.[387] The work was composed around 690, after seventy years of Arab rule, when there was great apocalyptic speculation due to civil war, plague and famine.[388] The author has great hope that Islamic rule would be overturned soon by the Christian Empire of Byzantium. With the advent of Christian rule the parousia would be imminent.

The author of the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius paints the Muslim conquest of the Persian Empire and the Eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire in the blackest terms. This is in contrast to the usual interpretation of the Islamic conquest that it was welcomed by the local people.

The land of Persia was given to desolation that it might bring destruction upon it and its inhabitants to captivity and to murder and to desolation. And Syria was given to destruction of desolation and her inhabitants to captivity and to murder. Sicily was given to ruin and destruction and her inhabited places to captivity and to murder. Hellas was given to destruction and to desolation and her inhabitants to captivity and to murder. The land of the Romans was given to desolation and destruction and her inhabited places to flight and to spoiling and to captivity. And the islands of the sea were given to flight and their inhabitants to captivity of ruins. Egypt and Syria and the places of the East will be harnessed under the yoke of tribute and tax, that is tribute, in suffering seven times that of prisoners.[389]

The tribute demanded by the Islamic government is also attacked as unjust. The caliphate is called ‘slavery’. The tribute being applied to those in society least able to pay is condemned.

‘And he will take a poll tax from orphans and from widows and from holy men. And they will have no mercy upon the poor and they will not give justice to the oppressed. And they will treat with insolence people of old age and they will sadden the spirit of those that are troubled.’[390]


Digenes Akrites

The Digenes Akrites is a Byzantine epic poem composed sometime in the 10th or 11th centuries. Little is known about its authorship or origin but it seems to have originated in the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire where border warfare between aristocratic land barons and Muslim ghazis was a fact of life.

In the opening verses the ‘Agarenes and Ishmaelites’ are described as Digenes ‘adversaries’ on the frontier region of eastern Anatolia.[391] Digenes father is an Emir who participates in raids against the Byzantine Empire.  He is described as destroying many cities and taking innumerable captives. All this is seen as believable to a reader of the goings on at the frontier. The brothers come across some Arabs who tell them their sister might be among the dead of a group of women who they recently killed. ‘There yesterday we killed some lovely ladies, because they would not do the things we told them….and many slain they [the brothers] found, bathed in their blood, of whom some had no hands, no heads nor feet, some had no limbs at all, and their guts out…’[392] The incident confirms the popular belief of Arabs as murderous and sexual predators. The reader can presume that the women in question were Christians and the Arabs were ghazi warriors who attempted to enslave the women (for sexual exploitation as concubines) or rape them immediately.

The Emir is enticed to accept Christianity for the love of Digenes’ mother. The poem sees the change of faith in religious terms as well as cultural terms. The poem specifically states he ‘denied his faith, his kin and country’.[393] Defecting to the Byzantine side of the frontier the Emir is seen as a change of culture as well as religion. The Trinitarian aspect of Christianity is emphasised at the Emir’s conversion.[394] The confession of faith, really a poetic summary of the Nicene Creed, mentions the Trinity three times. The mother of the Emir utters ‘I believe through you on God in Trinity…’[395]

After such a significant beginning with the theme of religion and culture looming large the poem lapses into an epic tale of love, bravery and warfare against brigands. It is these things that would appeal to an aristocratic audience rather than a monastic one.[396] God, Christ and the saints are constantly referred to in the poem but they are part of the cultural milieu rather than a central part of the narrative.


John Phocas – A General Description of the Settlements and Places Belonging to Syria and Phoenicia on the Way from Antioch to Jerusalem, and of the Holy Places of Palestine

Little is known of John Phocas but he mentions his birth in Crete and his service in the military.

John Phocas wrote a brief account of his travels to the Holy Land around 1185. It is concerned with his visits to Orthodox holy men living in the various monasteries along the path of his pilgrimage.[397]

John either encountered or heard about the Ishmaelis (or Assassins) in his travels. He is one of the few Byzantine authors who mentions them. The passage suggests that one of Phocas’ informants was a Sunni Muslim because they denied that the Ishmaelis were Muslims, something a Sunni might say about the Shi’ite extremists like the Ishmaelis. The passage demonstrates a popular perception of the sect.

Thus as far as Tripolis there are important castles along the coast, but inland there runs a large range in which live the Assassins. They are a Saracen race, and are neither Christians nor of the Muhammedan persuasion. Rather they are a sect on their own. They acknowledge God and call their leader God’s Ambassador, and at his command they are sent to the rulers of great nations and kill them with the sword. They too die in the adventure, for they are outnumbered when they have undertaken the deed, and this martyrdom they believe to be the way to immortality.[398]

John is aware of the claims of infallibility that the Ishmaelis attributed to their imams. He knows of the reputation that the Ishmaelis had for political assassination to compensate for their lack of numbers.


Theodore Metochites – Peri Skython (On the Skythians)

Theodore Metochites was the prime minister to the emperor Andronikos II. His portrait exists as a mosaic in the Chora monastery. It depicts Metochites presenting the gift of the church to Christ. Theodore was a great student of the classics and wrote poetry, letters and a collection of essays on a variety of subjects.

The tract Peri Skython appears, at first glance, to be an objective account of the superior qualities of the Turks but in actuality Metochites draws on the classical tradition of the ‘noble savage’ and little of the tract is based on objective observations of Turkish customs and beliefs.[399] The main sources of information for Metochites are Herodotus, Diodorus, Dionysius, Aelian and Homer, not his own observations or experiences or any Turkish, Arabic or Persian source. Metochites fails to realise that the Turks had developed beyond being simple nomads. If this had not been the case then they would not have been able to effectively challenge the Byzantines for control of Anatolia.[400]

Since Metochites is drawing from classical sources, Islam has no place in his description of the Turks. The positive attributes he gives them such as bravery, loyalty and love of freedom are in stark contrast to the usual condemnation of Turkish vices. Metochites is simply conducting a theoretical moralising exercise aimed at shaming his contemporaries rather than providing anything historical on the Turks.


Patriarch John XIV Kalekas – Letter on the Christians of Nicaea

John Kalekas served as Patriarch of Constantinople between 1334 and 1347. He served as regent to the young emperor John V Paleologus and came into conflict with John VI Kantakuzenos, whom he excommunicated. He also came into conflict with Gregory Palamas over the issue of Hesychasm. In 1344 he called a synod, which excommunicated Gregory, but in 1347 the emperor’s mother deposed him. John Kalekas died later in the same year.[401]

The Patriarchal Register of Constantinople records numerous letters by John Kalekas to communities and individuals within his jurisdiction. One such letter was to the recently conquered Christians of Nicaea who had passed under Ottoman rule. The letter itself is brief. It is an exhortation for them to remain loyal to the Church. It is probably in response to a letter by the Nicaean Christians to the patriarch on their status.

‘As many as wish to live in secret practising and keeping in their heart the Christian way, because of fear of punishment against them, these also shall attain salvation’. This is in contrast to the traditional Byzantine attitude of remaining firm in the faith even against overt persecution. Anthony Bryer even chides John Kalekas for having forgotten Matthew 10:33.[402] This is the first evidence for the phenomenon of crypto-Christianity under Ottoman rule.

Pittakion of the Patriarchs of Constantinople to the Christians in Nicaea.

Those who turn away from sin, the church of God, the general healing place of souls, opens the gates of its healing, dispenses the corresponding medication and therewith arranges the healing of all.  So no-one needs to become weary or fall into doubt and underestimate its healing, because there is really no sin which is victorious over the benevolence of God; the holy writings give numerous examples for those who turn away from their previous badness and show real peace and change, among others that of the glutton, that of the prostitute, that of the robber, that of the people of Nineveh and that of the people of Manasseh, who instigated the people for forty years to idolatry and turning away from the Creator.  God pushes no-one away and does not turn away, he has a boundless sea of goodness, if we only sincerely repent and humbly and tearfully ask for his mercy.

Now the tolerance of God has overpowered us through the mass of sins of the attack of the Ismaelites.  They captured many of ours, enslaved and dragged them away with force, so that they also - woe! - also choose this badness and godlessness.  But those who fall so deeply into badness become aware how far they have descended into evil. This drives them to turn again to Christianity; another thought overcomes them and they doubt and search to experience something certain, to see if they are not completely on the wrong path, rather they will find their salvation.  The church of God guarantees and gives them therewith binding certainty; those who choose the true belief in God and who desist from the badness of the Muslims, with whom they have been thrown, the church will count them among the Christian flock, heal them and care for them; they will not find any hindrance for the wellbeing of their soul because of their, as mentioned, earlier erring.  Much more will all those amongst them who openly and willingly show their regret, so that they prefer to suffer for their belief in God even achieve the martyr’s crown.  A sure proof of this is the great martyr Christi Iakobos the Persian.  All of them, though, who want to live for themselves and in seclusion out of fear of punishment, who therewith internalise and realise Christianity, will similarly find salvation, in as far as they strive to obey the commandments of God. In connection with this guarantee the document of the church of God under consideration was enacted.    


Neophytos the Recluse of Cyprus – Various Works

Neophytos was born in the Cypriot mountain village of Lefkara in 1134. At the age of 18 Neophytos became convinced of the vanity of the world and decided to become a monk. As a novice, Neophytos was given the task of tending the vineyards of the monastery of St. John Chrysostom at Koutsovendes, where he also learnt to read and write. Soon Neophytos decided to become a hermit so he dug an artificial cave, which he named enkleistra (place of seclusion). The bishop of Paphos, Basil Kinnamos, made Neophytos his protégé, ordained him a priest in 1170, and asked him to take on disciples. A monastic community soon gathered around him. He died on April 12th probably after the year 1214.[403]

Neophytos wrote no specific work against Islam but there are a number of references in his works. Most of Neophytos’ works consist of letters, panegyrics to the saints, biblical commentaries and a semi-autobiographical typicon.[404] Even though Neophytos lived in Latin-occupied Cyprus but still considered himself a loyal Byzantine citizen.

Neophytos was not particularly deep in his remarks about Islam. He is especially virulent when he perceives that a group is threatening the Orthodox Church, either through belief or military power or both. Most of his comments consist of terms of abuse hurled at Muslims like ‘barbarians’ and ‘infidels’. Saladin, the conqueror of Jerusalem, is called ‘wretched’ and the ‘the godless’ in Neophytos’ Panegyric on Saint Sabas due to his recent conquest of Jerusalem.[405] The annihilation of the Byzantine army at Myriokephalon by the Muslim Turks in 1176 was an event that Neophytos found very distressing. Muhammad is referred to as a pseudo-prophet and a servant of the devil. In his Commentary on the Apocalypse Muhammad is referred to as the Anti-Christ due to his teachings, which Neophytos sees as morally degenerate because of their sexual licence.[406] Neophytos represents the typical Byzantine attitude towards Islam. The level of understanding was not well informed but the little that he did know was enough for him to judge the religion harshly.


Gennadios II Scholarios – Confession of Faith

George Kourtesis Scholarios was born in 1405 and studied at Mystra in the Morea (Peloponnese). He served as secretary to Emperor John VIII and attended the Council of Florence in 1439 in this capacity. At the council, he signed the document of union of the churches, but under the influence of Mark Eugenikos, Metropolitan of Ephesus, he changed his mind and joined the ranks of the anti-unionists. In 1450 he was tonsured a monk and adopted the name Gennadios. He was captured at the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 but was released and appointed first patriarch under Ottoman rule by Mehmed II. He served in this capacity three times, each time retiring from office. He died in 1472.[407] Gennadios is often viewed as the last Byzantine theologian.[408]

Mehmed the Conqueror asked Gennadios to provide him with an outline of Christian doctrine. Mehmed’s motive behind the request was probably an effort to learn something about the faith of his conquered subjects rather than a genuine interest in conversion to Christianity.[409] Gennadios complied but Mehmed found the document too tedious so Gennadios composed an abbreviated version. The second confession consists of twelve short chapters. Both documents were translated into Turkish.[410] While not overtly polemical the document is definite about the core beliefs, some of which challenge Muslim concepts. Padadakis comments that ‘The work does not contain anything to offend Mehmed nor does it attack Islam directly, although it does pass numerous indirect judgements on the Quran’.[411]

Gennadios dwells at length on the Christian understanding of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. This exposition takes up eight of the twelve chapters of Confession of Faith. Gennadios tires to avoid technical terms but he is clear in his statements. In section four he says, ‘We thus believe one God in Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as our Lord Jesus taught us. And since he is truthful and absolute truth, we believe this also to be true, and this his disciples taught us thus more broadly.’[412] Gennadios uses the term ‘Trinity’, a term not used in the Nicene Creed. It directly challenges the Quran statement that God is not three. Gennadios is also emphatic that the church has followed the teaching of Jesus truthfully to counter the Muslim accusation that his teaching was corrupted. Gennadios stresses this by mentioning the ‘disciples’ which not only includes the Apostles and Gospel authors, but also the Church Fathers in general. In section nine Gennadios is clear on the crucifixion. He states ‘We believe that our Lord, the Christ, was crucified and died, through his own will, for many and great advantages, that require many reasons [to explain] – all this according to his humanity. For the Word of God is neither crucified or dies, nor is he raised [from the dead], but rather raises the dead himself just as he raised the flesh he put on’.[413]

The Confession of Faith shows that Gennadios could be conciliatory and maintain a civil relationship with Mehmed. However, other statements by Gennadios indicate he could be more critical. For example, he calls the Turks ‘the bloodthirsty dogs of Hagar’.[414] This set the tone for later polemics as Orthodox would not always say in public what they felt privately.



Byzantine views towards Islam display a wide variety of knowledge and opinion. They range from disinterest and ignorance to well informed and sophisticated. The Byzantine tradition in response to Islam began outside the borders of the empire. Over time, this knowledge passed into Byzantine territory. Initially Islam was a political rather than a religious threat to the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodox Church. As the threat of Islam (as a religion) increased so did the religious response by the ecclesiastical authorities. The Byzantines remained negative and hostile to Islam. However, aspects of Islam that were seen as derived from or compatible to Christianity were often admired and praised by the Byzantines.

The concept of Arabs [Muslims] as violent and aggressive was the overriding view of both religious and secular authors. They understood Islam as encouraging the already violent tendency of the Arabs. The Byzantines often portrayed themselves as innocent victims of Muslim aggression. The Byzantines maintained a status quo with Islamic states and were even willing to ally themselves to them. The cultural achievements of Islam did not impress the Byzantines whatsoever. Due to their tradition of Classical scholarship, direct descent from the Ancient Greeks and the idea that they were a continuation of the Roman Empire, the Byzantines maintained their cultural and ethical superiority throughout the period of cultural contact.

The average Byzantine would have viewed Islam as an Arab or national phenomena rather than a religious one. Their view was clouded by the classical ethnography of Islam. For them there was little difference between a pagan Arab and a Muslim Arab. Some aspects of Islam were common knowledge: such as the Islamic avoidance of pork and the direction of Muslim prayer. They would have been aware of these ritualistic aspects of Islam as Byzantium was a deeply ritualistic society and these would have made the greatest impact. Ethical differences would also have been widely known.

However, Byzantines were less inclined to be critical if the Muslim was a Byzantine ally or pro-Byzantine. If a Muslim converted to Christianity and assimilated to Byzantine culture (the two were usually complementary) then they were generally well treated in the texts. Byzantine historians often refer to the ethnic designations of members of the Byzantine nobility. This sometimes included Arabs and Turks. These indications of nationality are no different from that of Italians, Normans or Slavs who joined Byzantine society. If they were loyal to Byzantine traditions then those from Muslim backgrounds were praised and respected.

Despite the long history of polemics, there were few significant converts from Islam to Christianity. As Byzantium’s political power diminished this caused an increase in defections to the assurgent Islam and even the few converts that had been made ceased. Interestingly, no ex-Muslim authored a polemic against Islam and no convert is recorded reading the polemics produced within the Byzantine Empire. The closest was Meletius who assisted John Kantakuzenos in his polemic. Converts tended to be idealistic individuals who accepted the claims of Islam rather than ambitious opportunists. To complicate matters conversion often meant cultural and linguistic assimilation.

Religious polemicists demonstrated the most extensive knowledge of Islam. This was to be expected. It was necessary to investigate Islamic traditions in order to refute them, especially those that Christians found distasteful or heretical. There was little development in the issues in dispute between the two religions. The same polemical points raised by John of Damascus in the eighth century were those discussed by Manuel Paleologus in the fourteenth century. There is a progression of more sophisticated arguments and greater use of the Quran and Hadiths in Byzantine polemicists after the 12th century. Historians rarely engaged in any extensive discussion on Islam, perhaps they thought that their comments would be too obvious. Their level of knowledge is difficult to gauge but their passing comments indicate they were aware of more than they said. Byzantines were ahead of their western contemporaries in understanding of Islam. The language barrier was less significant as numerous Orthodox lived under Islamic rule and spoke Arabic. They acted as informants to their co-religionists in the Byzantine Empire. It was not until the crusades that the Latin West began to turn its eyes towards Islam. The quality that this polemical writing eventually reached can be judged by the example of Ricoldo and Petrus Alphonse. Ricoldo was seen as such an invaluable source on Islam that he was translated into Greek. Petrus Alphonse similarly wrote an extensive work in Spain that provided accurate information in Latin for the first time. Interestingly, no Byzantine polemicist is recorded as travelling to the Islamic world to study Islam as Ricoldo had done. The views of these medieval authors, like their Byzantine contemporaries, were clouded by their own cultural and theological biases but they did look at the sources of Islam to provide an accurate portrait. However, this was something the Byzantines had been doing for hundreds of years previously.



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Document Appendix

An Unpublished Passion of the 42 Martyrs of Amorium[415]

The Passion of the 42 Martyrs of Amorium concerns an important group of Byzantine officers taken prisoner by the Arabs at the siege of Amorium in 838. They were taken in captivity to the Tigris region.  After seven years of inhuman treatment they were asked to give up the Christian religion and adopt Islam, having all refused, except a traitor, they were executed in 845. Many versions of this passion of these martyrs (BHG 1209-14) were published in 1905 by P. Nikitin. The version translated below is found in Manuscript 736 of Patmos, BHG 1214c. It does not give any new information, as it is based on a known source, the Passion BHG 1209 by Evodius. However, it does give a new example that reproduces some characteristic expressions of hagiography. The brevity of the text and the concluding prayer indicates that the work was designed to be read in a monastic refectory during mealtime.

1.  The Scourge of Arab Invasions

When his servant Ishmael became angry with Isaac, Sarah became cross with him and chased him from his master's house, at the same time as his mother, disinheriting him completely and not leaving the smallest share to him. By a prophetic warning she foresaw the future and announced the arrogance of the expelled Ishmael against the elected people.  Ishmael had treated Christ's martyrs with injustice and we will talk about these martyrs.

2.  The Siege of Amorium

Constantine's sceptre was in the hands of Theophilos, the husband of the very pious widow of Theodora.  At the head of the Arabs, Ameroumnes was the enraged enemy of the Christians. Theophilos took over the big towns which belonged to the Arabs and returned with an escort as far as Byzantium, taking with him the spoils and a crowd from Agarenes. He showed the master triumphed over the servant. But the damned soul left the following year with a big army to besiege Amorium, the second city in the empire. The emperor left the capital with his 43 men and went in haste to Amorium.

3.  The Traitor

[The caliph] ordered them to go into the compound to fortify it. He stayed on the outside to sow disorder in the enemy army. Soon he started the siege in front of the town with his troops and installed rolling towers.  He used arms, stones, menaces and bait.  Pushed back everywhere, he didn’t know what to do and dreamt of shamefully withdrawing. Such was not the opinion of the hidden rebel (the demon) as he didn’t want his servants to distance themselves without achieving anything. As the first man, Adam, fell from paradise, and in the group of twelve apostles the traitor Judas and the deserter in the group of forty martyrs – he was driven by envy – he is going to find one of the elite officers, one of the champions of the orthodox faith.  He distanced himself from the others, associated himself with the partisans (horsemen) or rather he made a traitor of his soul no less than Amorium.  This man spent the night at the house of Amouremnes, imitating Judas he said these words: “What do you promise to give me if I give you this populated town without combat?  I will also adopt your religion.”  Oh impure words, why did you fill the soul of the Master with sadness?  It is the keeper who betrays and the son of the free woman who becomes a servant of the servant!  The soldier abandons his post and the Christian, marked by the sword of Christ, renounces the real faith, he erases the writing of the Master and bears the marks of the apostate.

4.  Bag of the Conquered Town

The impudent rejoiced in the promises that were made to him, he let a good part of the army which he brought leave; they did not have flames or torches.  The traitor judged the night would help him.  He distributed scabbards, sticks and arms.  The traitor, then, being in the tower he should have kept, sent the men off after swearing to not injure anyone.  He left the besiegers to penetrate the town and they rushed in.  The father had his throat cut in front of the son, the son was taken into captivity in front of the father, fire devoured the daughter and a brother saw his brother mowed down by the double-edged sword. Babies received blood from their mothers rather than milk and the mothers’ teats were cut off.  These babies had their throats cut.  Once a barbaric army abandons itself to anger it does not give way to sympathy.  It just considers how to gorge itself on human blood and not let anyone escape death.

5.  Captivity in the Orient

After this inhuman massacre the cruel people came upon the forty-two martyrs of piety.  They put them in iron chains and drove them to their country with a multitude of Christians.  Arriving at a place nominated by the local Pankalion, the brute had them die by the double-edged sword, he gave some as a gift to important people in the state and locked others in prison in the company of the saints. It would have been preferable to die than to have a life of unhappiness. Children of free women are reduced to slavery by the slave, the enemy and the rejected. For seven whole years, the courageous captives remained tolerating the dirt, hunger, vermin, with naked feet. Their food was examined and finally the noblemen left the prison for one near the Tigris, as they had decided it would be there that they would be interrogated. They went by horseback followed by an escort who would frighten them.  He tried to reach one man and get them to give way.  But the forty-two resisted like a single man – same opinion, same decision.  The judge met not one man, but the whole group.

6.  Theodore the Martyr and Three Others

They then brought out the eunuch Theodore with the surname of Krateros, fortified by his divine soul.  He appeared in front of the infamous governor who flattered him and made promises if he gave up Christ. But he recognised that his faith was able to resist the flattery and affirmed he [the governor] would never attract servants of Christ to his religion. The soldier of Christ, having attacked the tyrant with frankness, was condemned to have his head cut off.  His clothes were torn off, his belt was attached to his head and the double-edged sword sent him to paradise. The virtuous Constantine was brought out and when they saw that he also refused to obey orders his tunic was torn up and he was also decapitated.  Next they executed Theophilos and after him Callistus. They must have firstly cut off the tyrant’s head with their plain speaking and were then subjected to the double-edged sword. In the future they were to become honoured with the title of protospatharios.

7.  Martyrdom of Basoes

They come finally to the courageous Basoes, who engaged his companions in resisting for Christ and said he would remove from their company anyone who had a fearful soul.  This Basoes, when he saw that the tunics of the martyrs were ripped up, removed his own clothes, calling: “Naked I came out of my mother, naked I will return to my Master. I ripped my clothes at the time of approaching the martyr’s test.  I will expect that Agonothere arrives and he will crown me.”  When he had been executed, a brilliant, powerful light came down from the sky and as the saints were singing for the third hour, it showed that it was Basoes’ lamp which shone among the martyrs.  After him the others were also decapitated, the sixth of March, Michael and Theodora governing the Roman Empire with piety.

8.  An Apostate

Until now our discourse has told of the victories of the soldiers of Christ showing that the order in the sky followed that on earth.  After the courageous ones had finished their battle, a Christian was taken out of prison and he was asked if he would give up his faith. As a reward, he would receive palace honours and many favours. He promised to conform to the royal edict. And he was told to stand on the cross when it arrived as if it was vile and despicable, which he did do. Oh, the most impious of men, why did you do that? One should have told you to walk on aspic and basil and not desecrate the trophy of the king of the universe.  Genesis had prescribed to observe the head of the snake and ordered him to observe your heel.   His heel (or his trickery) ran the risk of being observed miserably. He has condemned his soul to death. The guilty one did not win, as the chiefs of Amaregnes suggested to their king to put him to death. It is not fair, they said, that he renounced his religion and someone who can’t stand by his religion would distance himself more easily from a foreign religion.  Ameroumnes [the caliph al-Wathiq] decided then that he would cut off his head as well.

9.  The Mortal Laying Bare of the Martyrs

Which voices does the unhappy one hear, what does he think and reason, when he is led to his death? What did you gain in committing this crime, unhappy one? You lost your faith and didn’t win life, after having lost the first, you also lost the second. After the execution, the body was flung into the river with those of the saints, on the judges’ orders. The bottom of the river swallowed him up: he wasn’t judged worthy of associating with the glory of the others, he who had dishonoured divinity. The martyrs’ bodies, it transported them as they advanced, swimming/drifting, it escorted them and celebrated their triumph as champions of the faith.  The crowd of Christians gathered the precious leftovers and perfumed them with rich essences, then put them in a chosen place, glorifying the Holy one who glorified them. All honour and adoration to him now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.



[1] Hanson, Craig L, “Manuel I Comnenos and the ‘God of Muhammad’: A Study in Byzantine Ecclesiastical Politics,” John Victor Tolan (ed.). Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam. p. 59.

[2] Hanson, Craig L, “Manuel I Comnenos and the ‘God of Muhammad’: A Study in Byzantine Ecclesiastical Politics,” John Victor Tolan (ed.). Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam. pp. 58-59.

[3] Armstrong. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. pp. 75-79.

[4] Armstrong. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. pp. 79-81.

[5] Sura 16:103 “We know well that they say ‘only a man teaches him,’ [but] the language of him to whom they allude is foreign, whereas this is clear Arabic speech.”

[6] Hoyland. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. p. 505, note 182.

[7] Ibn Ishaq (trans. Guillaume). The Life of Muhammad. pp. 79-81.

[8] Ibn Ishaq (trans. Guillaume). The Life of Muhammad. p. 107.

[9] Ibn Ishaq (trans. Guillaume). The Life of Muhammad. pp. 98-103.

[10] Warraq. Why I Am Not a Muslim. p. 101.

[11] Ibn Ishaq (trans. Guillaume). The Life of Muhammad. pp. 165-166.

[12] Ibn Ishaq (trans. Guillaume). The Life of Muhammad. p. 166.

[13] Armstrong. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. pp. 144-5, 157, 181, 192, 195-7, 202-3, 233-40.

Armstrong lists Muhammad’s wives as the following: Khadija (p. 80), Sawdah (p. 144), Aisha (p. 145), Zaynab bint Kuzaymah (p. 192), Hind bint al-Maghria, who was also called Umm Salamah (p. 195), Zaynab bint Jahsh (p. 196), Umm Habibah, who was also called Ramlah (233), Safiyah (p. 233), Maymunah (p. 234), Jayayriyah (p. 199) and Hafsah (p. 236). Maryam, the Coptic slavegirl, was a concubine and not a wife (p. 236).

[14] Armstrong. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. p. 196.

[15] Warraq. Why I Am Not a Muslim. pp. 99-100.

[16] Armstrong. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. p. 157.

[17] Armstrong. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. p. 185.

[18] Ibn Ishaq (trans. Guillaume). The Life of Muhammad. pp. 714-15.

[19] Armstrong. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. p. 190.

[20] Armstrong. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. p. 236.

[21] Ibn Warraq. Why I Am Not a Muslim. pp. 35-36, 39-41. Ibn Warraq is a convert to secular humanism so the debates between Islam and Christianity so not really concern him.

[22] Geisler and Saleeb. Answering Islam. p. 61.

[23] Ibn Warraq. Why I Am Not a Muslim. p. 64.

[24] Geisler and Saleeb. Answering Islam. p. 64.

[25] Geisler and Saleeb. Answering Islam. pp. 90-91.

[26] Ibn Warraq. Why I Am Not a Muslim. p. 83.

[27] A Muslim would simply not be convinced by a New Testament assertion on the divinity of Christ. If a Christian were to quote John 1:1-17 the Muslim would say that was a corrupted passage.

[28] Ibn Ishaq (trans. Guillaume). The Life of Muhammad. p. 104.

[29] This same verse features prominently in modern Muslim apologetic.


[31] Geisler and Saleeb. Answering Islam. p. 121.

[32] Alexander Kazhdan, “Nikephoros I,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. p. 1477.

[33] Alexander, The Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople. p. 162.

[34] Alexander, The Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople. p. 158.

[35] There is evidence that Nikephoros revised his work but the main changes are stylistic. If Nikephoros later discovered that Muslims were monotheists he chose not to do anything about it.

[36] Nikephoros (trans.  Mango). Short History. pp. 65-67.

[37] Nikephoros literally calls Amr a ‘Hellene.’ In 8th century usage he means a classic polytheist like the ancient Greeks.

[38] Nikephoros (trans.  Mango). Short History. pp. 75-77.

[39] Nikephoros (trans.  Mango). Short History. pp. 105-107.

[40] Nikephoros (trans.  Mango). Short History. p. 121.

[41] Nikephoros (trans.  Mango). Short History. p. 69.

[42] Nikephoros (trans.  Mango). Short History. pp. 71-73.

[43] Nicol. A Biographical Dictionary of the Byzantine Empire. p. 127.

[44] Khadija was the first wife of Muhammad. Armstrong. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. pp. 79-81. There are various spellings of her name.

[45] Mango and Scott. The Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor. pp. 464-65.

[46] Armstrong. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. pp. 70, 80.

[47] Hoyland. Islam as Others Saw it. pp. 355-56.

[48] Conrad, Lawrence I. “Theophanes and the Arabic Historical Tradition: Some Indications of Intercultural Transmission.”, (Chapter 12), Arab-Byzantine Relations in Early Islamic Times. Michael Bonner (ed). p. 341.

[49] Mango and Scott. The Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor. p. 466.

[50] Mango and Scott. The Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor. p. 477.

[51] Mango and Scott. The Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor. p. 483.

[52] Mango and Scott. The Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor. p. 485.

[53] Mango and Scott. The Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor. p. 502.

[54] Nicol. A Biographical Dictionary of the Byzantine Empire. p. 42.

[55] Genesios (trans. Kaldellis). On the Reigns of the Emperors. p. xv.

[56] Genesios (trans. Kaldellis). On the Reigns of the Emperors. p. x.

[57] Genesios (trans. Kaldellis). On the Reigns of the Emperors. p. 81.

[58] Genesios (trans. Kaldellis). On the Reigns of the Emperors. pp. 40-41.

[59] Genesios (trans. Kaldellis). On the Reigns of the Emperors. p. 60.

[60] Genesios (trans. Kaldellis). On the Reigns of the Emperors. p. 104.

[61] Nicol. A Biographical Dictionary of the Byzantine Empire. p.27.

[62] Constantine Porphyrogenitus (trans. Moravcsik and Jenkins). De Administrando Imperio. pp. 13-14.

[63] Another variant spelling of Khadija.

[64] Constantine Porphyrogenitus (trans. Moravcsik and Jenkins). De Administrando Imperio. pp. 77- 79.

[65] Constantine Porphyrogenitus (trans. Moravcsik and Jenkins). De Administrando Imperio. p. 85.

[66] Constantine Porphyrogenitus (trans. Moravcsik and Jenkins). De Administrando Imperio. p. 91.

[67] Constantine Porphyrogenitus (trans. Moravcsik and Jenkins). De Administrando Imperio. p. 107.

[68] Constantine Porphyrogenitus (trans. Moravcsik and Jenkins). De Administrando Imperio. p. 79.

[69] Kaminiates. (trans. Frendo and Fotiou). The Capture of Thessaloniki. pp. xxxvii-xxxix.

[70] Kaminiates. (trans. Frendo and Fotiou). The Capture of Thessaloniki. p. 23.

[71] Kaminiates. (trans. Frendo and Fotiou). The Capture of Thessaloniki. p. 33.

[72] Kaminiates. (trans. Frendo and Fotiou). The Capture of Thessaloniki. p. 91.

[73] Kaminiates. (trans. Frendo and Fotiou). The Capture of Thessaloniki. p. 109.

[74] Kaminiates. (trans. Frendo and Fotiou). The Capture of Thessaloniki. p. 121.

[75] Kaminiates. (trans. Frendo and Fotiou). The Capture of Thessaloniki. p. 45.

[76] Nicol. A Biographical Dictionary of the Byzantine Empire. p. 75.

[77] Leo the Deacon (trans. Talbot and Sullivan). The History of Leo the Deacon. p. 65.

[78] Leo the Deacon (trans. Talbot and Sullivan). The History of Leo the Deacon. p. 79.

[79] Leo the Deacon (trans. Talbot and Sullivan). The History of Leo the Deacon. pp. 149-50.

[80] Leo the Deacon (trans. Talbot and Sullivan). The History of Leo the Deacon. p. 72.

[81] Leo the Deacon (trans. Talbot and Sullivan). The History of Leo the Deacon. pp. 192-96.

[82] Leo the Deacon (trans. Talbot and Sullivan). The History of Leo the Deacon. p. 77.

[83] Leo the Deacon (trans. Talbot and Sullivan). The History of Leo the Deacon. p. 126.

[84] Sewter. Fourteen Byzantine Rulers. pp. 66-67.

[85] Sewter. Fourteen Byzantine Rulers. p. 253.

[86] Buckler. Anna Comnena: A Study. p. 330.

[87] Sewter. The Alexiad of Anna Comnena. p. 310.

[88] Buckler. Anna Comnena: A Study. p. 331.

[89] Sewter. The Alexiad of Anna Comnena. p. 489.

[90] Sewter. The Alexiad of Anna Comnena. p. 208.

[91] Anna is mistaken in this account. Malek Shah was poisoned. The account is that of the murder of Malek Shah’s vizier, Nizam-al-Mulk, by the Assassins. The inherit violence of the group is stressed by Anna. Buckler. Anna Comnena: A Study. p. 423.

[92] Nicol. A Biographical Dictionary of the Byzantine Empire. p. 70.

[93] Brand. Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus. p. 186.

[94] Brand. Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus. p. 148.

[95] Brand. Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus. p. 208.

[96] Brand. Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus. pp. 188-89.

[97] Brand. Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus. p. 220.

[98] Kazhdan and Epstein. Change in Byzantine Culture. p. 257.

[99] Brand. Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus. p. 157.

[100] Meyendorff. “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. Crestwood, New York: SVS Press, 1982. p.103.

[101] Angold. Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni 1081-1261. pp. 112-113.

[102] Sahas. ‘“Holosphyros”? A Byzantine perception of “the God of Muhammad”’. Christian-Muslim Encounters. Gainsville: University Press of Florida, 1991. p. 111.

[103] Meyendorff. “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. Crestwood, New York: SVS Press, 1982. p. 100, p.104.

[104] Magoulias. O City of Byzantium, Annals of Niketas Choniates. p. 122.

[105] Magoulias. “Doctrinal Disputes in the History of Niketas Choniates.” The Patristic and Byzantine Review 6:1 (1987), p. 199-217.

[106] Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series. Volume XIV: The Seven Ecumenical Councils. p. 40.

[107] Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series. Volume XIV: The Seven Ecumenical Councils. p. 185.

[108] Timothy G. Gregory and Alexander Kazhdan, “Eunomios” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. p. 1159.

[109] R. J. Macrides, “Akropolites, George” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. p. 49.

[110] Akropolites, George (trans. Ruth Macrides). George Akropolites: The History.  pp. 92-94.

[111]Akropolites, George (trans. Ruth Macrides). George Akropolites: The History.  p. 315.

[112]Akropolites, George (trans. Ruth Macrides). George Akropolites: The History.  p. 124.

[113]Akropolites, George (trans. Ruth Macrides). George Akropolites: The History.  p. 220.

[114] In this case pro-Roman can either be pro-Christian or pro-Byzantine or more probably both.

[115]Akropolites, George (trans. Ruth Macrides). George Akropolites: The History.  p. 223.

[116] Vryonis. The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century. p. 425.

[117]Akropolites, George (trans. Ruth Macrides). George Akropolites: The History.  p. 361.

[118] Alice-Mary Talbot, “John VI Kantakouzenos,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. p. 1050-1051.

[119] John Kantakuzenos (trans. Miller), History IV.5. p. 165.

[120] John Kantakuzenos (trans. Miller), History IV.23. pp. 199-200.

[121] John Kantakuzenos (trans. Miller), History IV.37. p. 232.

[122] John Kantakuzenos (trans. Miller), History IV.38. pp. 232-33.

[123] Alice-Mary Talbot, “Machairas, Leontios,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. p. 1263.

[124] Makhairas, Leontios (trans. Dawkins). Recital Concerning the Sweet Land of Cyprus entitled the ‘Chronicle.’ Volume 2. p. 3.

[125] Ibid. p. 4.

[126] [126] Makhairas, Leontios (trans. Dawkins). Recital Concerning the Sweet Land of Cyprus entitled the ‘Chronicle.’ Volume 1. p. 121.

[127] Makhairas, Leontios (trans. Dawkins). Recital Concerning the Sweet Land of Cyprus entitled the ‘Chronicle.’ Volume 1. p. 103.

[128] Makhairas, Leontios (trans. Dawkins). Recital Concerning the Sweet Land of Cyprus entitled the ‘Chronicle.’ Volume 1. p. 649.

[129] Makhairas, Leontios (trans. Dawkins). Recital Concerning the Sweet Land of Cyprus entitled the ‘Chronicle.’ Volume 1. p. 633.

[130] Makhairas, Leontios (trans. Dawkins). Recital Concerning the Sweet Land of Cyprus entitled the ‘Chronicle.’ Volume 1. p. 657.

[131] Alice-Mary Talbot, “Chalkokondyles, Laonikos,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. p. 407.

[132] Miller, William. ‘The Last Athenian Historian: Laonikos Chalkokondyles’, The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 42, Part 1 (1922), p. 38.

[133] Miller, William. ‘The Last Athenian Historian: Laonikos Chalkokondyles’, The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 42, Part 1 (1922), p. 44.

[134] Vryonis Jr, “Evidence on Human Sacrifice Among the Early Ottoman Turks,” Studies on Byzantium, Seljuks and Ottomans. p. 145.

[135] Magoulias. The Decline and Fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Turks. p. 66.

[136] Magoulias. The Decline and Fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Turks. p. 62.

[137] Magoulias. The Decline and Fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Turks. p. 73.

[138] Magoulias. The Decline and Fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Turks. p. 110.

[139] Magoulias. The Decline and Fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Turks. p. 133-34.

[140] Magoulias. The Decline and Fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Turks. p. 198.

[141] Vryonis Jr, “Evidence on Human Sacrifice Among the Early Ottoman Turks,” Studies on Byzantium, Seljuks and Ottomans. pp. 143.

[142] Alice-Mary Talbot, “Sphrantzes, George,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. p. 1937.

[143] Philippides. The Fall of the Byzantine Empire. p. 22.

[144] Philippides. The Fall of the Byzantine Empire. p. 21.

[145] Philippides. The Fall of the Byzantine Empire. pp. 24-25.

[146] Philippides. The Fall of the Byzantine Empire. p. 26.

[147] Philippides. The Fall of the Byzantine Empire. p. 60.

[148] Philippides. The Fall of the Byzantine Empire. p. 70.

[149] Philippides. The Fall of the Byzantine Empire. p. 79.

[150] Philippides. The Fall of the Byzantine Empire. p. 88.

[151] Kritovoulos (trans. Riggs). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. p. 110

[152] Kritovoulos (trans. Riggs). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. pp. 142-145.

[153] Alice-Mary Talbot, “Kritoboulos, Michael,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. p. 1159.

[154] Kritovoulos (trans. Riggs). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. p. 9.

[155] Kritovoulos (trans. Riggs). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. p. 10.

[156] Kritovoulos (trans. Riggs). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. p. 76.

[157] Kritovoulos (trans. Riggs). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. p. 84.

[158] Kritovoulos (trans. Riggs). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. pp. 175-176.

[159] Kritovoulos (trans. Riggs). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. p. 156. The castle of Kastrion had its 300 survivors executed and a similar fate befell the people of Gardikion.

[160] Kritovoulos (trans. Riggs). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. p. 11.

[161] Kritovoulos (trans. Riggs). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. pp. 71-74.

[162] Kritovoulos (trans. Riggs). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. p. 70.

[163] Kritovoulos (trans. Riggs). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. pp. 41-42.

[164] Kritovoulos (trans. Riggs). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. p. 88.

[165] Kritovoulos (trans. Riggs). History of Mehmed the Conqueror. p. 115.

[166] Cunningham. The Life of Michael the Synkellos. p. 5.

[167] Cunningham. The Life of Michael the Synkellos. pp. 57-59.

[168] Cunningham. The Life of Michael the Synkellos. p. 85.

[169] Tachiaos. Cyril and Methodius of Thessalonica. p. 30.

[170] Tachiaos. Cyril and Methodius of Thessalonica. p. 39.

[171] Tachiaos. Cyril and Methodius of Thessalonica. p. 200.

[172] Kantor. Medieval Slavic Lives of Saints and Princes.  p. 39.

[173] Kantor. Medieval Slavic Lives of Saints and Princes.  p. 37.

[174] Tachiaos. Cyril and Methodius of Thessalonica. pp. 39-51.

[175] Kantor. Medieval Slavic Lives of Saints and Princes.  p. 61.

[176] Lamoreaux. The Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas. p. 133.

[177] Lamoreaux. The Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas. p. 31.

[178] Lamoreaux. The Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas. p. 131.

[179] Lamoreaux. The Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas. p. 82.

[180] Lamoreaux. The Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas. p. 78.

[181] Lamoreaux. The Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas. p. 82.

[182] Lamoreaux. The Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas. pp. 37-38.

[183] Treadgold. The Byzantine Revival 780-842. p. 79.

[184] Treadgold. The Byzantine Revival 780-842. p. 303.

[185] Hoyland. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. p. 347.

[186] Hoyland. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. p. 349.

[187] Huxley. “The Sixty Martyrs of Jerusalem,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 18 (1977), pp. 372-3.

[188] Hoyland. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. p. 362.

[189] Huxley. “The Sixty Martyrs of Jerusalem,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 18 (1977), p. 374.

[190] Hoyland. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. p. 365.

[191] McGrath, “Elias of Heliopolis: The Life of an Eighth-Century Saint,” Byzantine Authors, Literary Activities and Preoccupations. p. 100.

[192] McGrath, “Elias of Heliopolis: The Life of an Eighth-Century Saint,” Byzantine Authors, Literary Activities and Preoccupations. p. 97.

[193] Hoyland. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. p. 363.

[194] McGrath, “Elias of Heliopolis: The Life of an Eighth-Century Saint,” Byzantine Authors, Literary Activities and Preoccupations. p. 105.

[195] Swanson, Mark N, “The Martyrdom of Abd al-Masih, Superior of Mount Sinai,” David Thomas (ed.), Syrian Christians Under Islam, the First Thousand Years. Leiden: Brill, 2001. pp. 116-118.

[196] Lang. Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints. p. 115.

[197] Lang. Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints. p. 117.

[198] Nerses is a client king serving under Arab rule.

[199] Lang. Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints. p. 122.

[200] Lang. Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints. p. 123.

[201] Lang. Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints. p. 124, p. 129.

[202] Tolan. Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination. p. 56.

[203] Lamoreaux, John, “Early Eastern Christian Response to Islam,” John Victor Tolan (ed.). Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam. p. 22.

[204] Theodore Abu Qurrah (trans. Sidney H Griffith), A Treatise on the Veneration of the Holy Icons. p. 74.

[205] Lamoreaux, John, “Early Eastern Christian Response to Islam,” John Victor Tolan (ed.). Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam. p. 23.

[206] Lamoreaux. The Life of Stephen of Mar Sabas. pp. 125 - 126.

[207] Amorion or its Latinised name of Amorium was capital of the Byzantine province of Phrygia.

[208] Treadgold. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. p. 448.

[209] Kolia-Dermitzaki, Athina. “The Execution of the Forty-two Martyrs of Amorion: proposing an interpretation,” Al-Masaq 14 (2002). pp. 150-151.

[210] See Document Appendix. pp. 97-99.

[211] Hoyland. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. pp. 381-383.

[212] Griffith. “The Arabic account of ‘Abd al-Masih an-Nagrani al-Ghassani”, in Arabic Christianity in the Monasteries of Ninth-Century Palestine. Variorum, 1992. Study X, pp. 352-354.

[213] Ibid. pp. 370-71.

[214] Ibid. p. 373.

[215] Louth. St. John Damascene. pp. 3-14.

[216] Louth. St. John Damascene. pp. xiv-xv.

[217] Louth. St. John Damascene. pp. 198-208.

[218] Louth. St. John Damascene. pp. 76-77.

[219] Meyendorff. “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. pp.93-94.

[220] Meyendorff. “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. p.  94.

[221] Louth. St. John Damascene. p. 77.

[222] Louth. St. John Damascene. p. 80.

[223] Chase. John of Damascus: Writings. pp. 153-160.

[224] Unfortunately John thinks Zaid is Muhammad’s friend and not his adopted son.

[225] Louth. St. John Damascene. p. 81.

[226] Sidney H. Griffith, “Theodore Abu-Qurra,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. p. 2041.

[227] John C. Lamoreaux, “ The Biography of Theodore Abu Qurrah Revisited,” Alice-Mary Talbot (ed.), Dumbarton Oaks Papers 56. pp. 32-35.

[228] Lamoreaux. Theodore Abu Qurrah. p. 269.

[229] Lamoreaux. Theodore Abu Qurrah. p. 225.

[230] Lamoreaux, John, “Early Eastern Christian Response to Islam,” John Victor Tolan (ed.). Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam. p. 21.

[231] Lamoreaux. Theodore Abu Qurrah. p. xxix.

[232] Lamoreaux. Theodore Abu Qurrah. p. 212.

[233] Lamoreaux. Theodore Abu Qurrah. p. 211.

[234] Lamoreaux. Theodore Abu Qurrah. p. 224.

[235] Lamoreaux. Theodore Abu Qurrah. p. 216.

[236] Lamoreaux. Theodore Abu Qurrah. p. 215.

[237] Lamoreaux. Theodore Abu Qurrah. pp. 222-224.

[238] Lamoreaux. Theodore Abu Qurrah. p. 217.

[239] Lamoreaux. Theodore Abu Qurrah. p. 220.

[240] Lamoreaux. Theodore Abu Qurrah. pp. 220-222.

[241] Pelikan. The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). p. xviii.

[242] Meyendorff uses the word ‘spoken’, suggesting a religious exchange rather than casual pleasantries. Meyendorff. “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. p. 99.

[243] Hanson, Craig L, “Manuel I Comnenos and the ‘God of Muhammad’: A Study in Byzantine Ecclesiastical Politics,” John Victor Tolan (ed.). Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam. p. 64.

[244] Daniel, Norman. Islam and the West. p. 15.

[245] Meyendorff. “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. p.99. The citations that Niketas do not always conform to those in modern editions of the Quran.

[246] Pelikan. The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). p. 230.

[247] Pelikan. The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). p. 232.

[248] Pelikan. The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). p. 233.

[249] Daniel. Islam and the West. pp. 39-47.

[250] Meyendorff. “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. pp.99-100.

[251] Pelikan,. The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). p. 240.

[252] Krausmuller, “Killing at God’s Command,” Al-Masaq 16 (2004). p. 165.

[253] Krausmuller, “Killing at God’s Command,” Al-Masaq 16 (2004). p. 166.

[254] Krausmuller, “Killing at God’s Command,” Al-Masaq 16 (2004). p. 170.

[255] The references are Exodus 32:27, Numbers 25:7-8 and I Kings 13:33.

[256] Krausmuller, “Killing at God’s Command,” Al-Masaq 16 (2004). p. 167.

[257] Pelikan. The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). p. 235.

[258] Daniel, Norman. Islam and the West. p. 15.

[259] Eutychius of Alexandria. Watt. The Book of the Demonstration. Volume 1. p. III.

[260] Eutychius of Alexandria. Watt. The Book of the Demonstration. Volume 1. Pp. 131-132.

[261] Sewter. The Alexiad of Anna Comnena. p.500.

[262] Kazhdan and Epstein. Change in Byzantine Culture in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries. p. 163.

[263] Pelikan. The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). p. xiv.

[264] Kazhdan and Epstein. Change in Byzantine Culture. pp.186-87.

[265] Meyendorff. “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. p.101.

[266] Pelikan,. The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). p. xii.

[267] Pelikan,. The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). p. 229.

[268] Pelikan,. The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). p. 241.

[269] Sahas. “The Formation of Later Islamic Doctrines as a Response to Byzantine Polemics: The Miracles of Muhammad.” GOTR. 27 (1982), pp. 314-15.

[270] Sahas. “The Formation of Later Islamic Doctrines as a Response to Byzantine Polemics: The Miracles of Muhammad.” GOTR. 27 (1982), p. 317.

[271] Sahas. “The Formation of Later Islamic Doctrines as a Response to Byzantine Polemics: The Miracles of Muhammad.” GOTR. 27 (1982), pp. 318-20.

[272] It is often known by its Latin name ‘Contra Muhammedum’. It is printed in Migne PG 104.

[273] Thomas, “Paul of Antioch’s Letter to a Muslim Friend and The Letter from Cyprus,” David Thomas (ed.), Syrian Christians Under Islam, the First Thousand Years. pp. 203-04.

[274] Ibid. p. 205.

[275] Ibid. p. 213.

[276] Siddiqi. “Muslim and Byzantine Christian Relations: Letter of Paul of Antioch and Ibn Taymiyah’s Response” in Nomikos M. Vaporis (ed). Orthodox Christians and Muslims. Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1986. p. 37.

[277] Ebied and Thomas (ed.). Muslim-Christian Polemic during the Crusades. p. 6.

[278] Ebied and Thomas (ed.). Muslim-Christian Polemic during the Crusades. pp. 73-75.

[279] Pelikan. The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). p. xiii.

[280] Nicol. The Reluctant Emperor. p. 146.

[281] Daniel. Islam and the West. p. 260.

[282] Daniel. Islam and the West. p. 403.

[283] Peters. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Volume 2. p. 71.

[284] Daniel. Islam and the West. p. 96-97.

[285] Daniel. Islam and the West. p. 55.

[286] Daniel. Islam and the West. p. 81.

[287] Daniel. Islam and the West. p. 83-84.

[288] Peters. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Volume 2. p. 326.

[289] Peters. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Volume 2. p. 327.

[290] Nicol. The Reluctant Emperor. pp. 145-146.

[291] Meyendorff. “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. pp. 101-102.

[292] Vryonis. The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century. pp. 424-425.

[293] Nicol. The Reluctant Emperor. p. 180.

[294] Sahas. “Ritual of Conversion from Islam to the Byzantine Church.” GOTR. 36 (1991), p. 69.

[295] Pelikan. The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). p. 232.

[296] Pelikan. The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). p. 235.

[297] Vryonis Jr, “Evidence on Human Sacrifice Among the Early Ottoman Turks,” Studies on Byzantium, Seljuks and Ottomans. pp. 144.

[298] Vryonis Jr, “Evidence on Human Sacrifice Among the Early Ottoman Turks,” Studies on Byzantium, Seljuks and Ottomans. pp. 145.

[299] Sahas. “Captivity and Dialogue: Gregory Palamas (1296-1360) and the Muslims, ” GOTR. 25 (1980), p. 411.

[300] Sahas. “Captivity and Dialogue: Gregory Palamas (1296-1360) and the Muslims, ” p. 415.

[301] Sahas. “Captivity and Dialogue: Gregory Palamas (1296-1360) and the Muslims, ” p. 417.

[302] Sahas. “Captivity and Dialogue: Gregory Palamas (1296-1360) and the Muslims, ” p. 431.

[303] Sahas. “Gregory Palamas (1296-1360) on Islam.” The Muslim World 73 (1983), p. 17.

[304] Sahas. “Captivity and Dialogue: Gregory Palamas (1296-1360) and the Muslims, ” p. 414-15.

[305] Sahas. “Gregory Palamas (1296-1360) on Islam.” The Muslim World 73 (1983), p. 14.

[306] Sahas. “Captivity and Dialogue: Gregory Palamas (1296-1360) and the Muslims, ” p. 429.

[307] Meyendorff. A Study of Gregory Palamas. pp. 106-07.

[308] Sahas. “Gregory Palamas (1296-1360) on Islam.” The Muslim World 73 (1983), p. 8-9.

[309] Sahas. “Captivity and Dialogue: Gregory Palamas (1296-1360) and the Muslims, ” p. 418.

[310] Sahas. “Captivity and Dialogue: Gregory Palamas (1296-1360) and the Muslims, ” p. 423.

[311] Sahas. “Captivity and Dialogue: Gregory Palamas (1296-1360) and the Muslims, ” p. 427.

[312] Sahas. “Captivity and Dialogue: Gregory Palamas (1296-1360) and the Muslims, ” p. 428.

[313] Barker. Manuel II Palaeologus. p. xxiv.

[314] Vryonis. The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century. p. 428.

[315] Treadgold. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. p. 812.

[316] Vryonis. The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century. p. 424.

[317] Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). p. 231.

[318] Manuel means the native Byzantine Christians who populated the region.

[319] Palaeologus, Manuel II. (trans. Dennis). The Letters of Manuel II Palaeologus. p. 42

[320] Jeffery, Arthur. “Ghevond’s Text of the Correspondence between Umar II and Leo III”, The Harvard Theological Review 37 (1944) pp. 269-276.

[321] Meyendorff, John, “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. Crestwood, New York: SVS Press, 1982. p. 105.

[322] Tolan. Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination. p. 60.

[323] Jeffery, Arthur. “Ghevond’s Text of the Correspondence between Umar II and Leo III”, The Harvard Theological Review 37 (1944) p. 270.

[324] These leaders were the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, the Persian Emperor Cheoroses, the Negus of Ethiopia and the Governor of Alexandria.

[325] Jeffery, Arthur. “Ghevond’s Text of the Correspondence between Umar II and Leo III”, The Harvard Theological Review 37 (1944) p. 292.

[326] Jeffery, Arthur. “Ghevond’s Text of the Correspondence between Umar II and Leo III”, The Harvard Theological Review 37 (1944) p. 309.

[327] Ibn Ishaq (trans. Alfred Guillaume). The Life of Muhammad. pp. 103-104.

[328] Jeffery, Arthur. “Ghevond’s Text of the Correspondence between Umar II and Leo III”, The Harvard Theological Review 37 (1944) p. 310.

[329] Tolan. Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination. p. 44.

[330] Jeffery, Arthur. “Ghevond’s Text of the Correspondence between Umar II and Leo III”, The Harvard Theological Review 37 (1944) p. 324.

[331] Alexander Kazhdan, “Arethas of Caesarea,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. p. 163.

[332] Sahas, ‘Arethas “Letter to the Emir at Damascus”: Official or Popular Views on Islam in the 10th Century Byzantium’, The Patristic and Byzantine Review, p. 77.

[333] Sahas, ‘Arethas “Letter to the Emir at Damascus”: Official or Popular Views on Islam in the 10th Century Byzantium’, The Patristic and Byzantine Review, p. 73.

[334] Meyendorff, “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. p.110.

[335] Sahas, ‘Arethas “Letter to the Emir at Damascus”: Official or Popular Views on Islam in the 10th Century Byzantium’, The Patristic and Byzantine Review, p. 76.

[336] Meyendorff, “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. p.108.

[337] Alexander Kazhdan, “Nicholas I Mystikos,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. pp. 1466-1467.

[338] Jenkins, Romilly J.H. “A Note on the ‘Letter to the Emir’ of Nicholas Mysticus”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Volume 17, 1963, p. 399.

[339] Nicholas Mystikos (trans. Jenkins and Westerink) Letters. p. 525.

[340] John Kaminiates wrote an extensive account on the capture of Thessaloniki.

[341] Nicholas Mystikos (trans. Jenkins and Westerink) Letters. p. 3.

[342] Nicholas Mystikos (trans. Jenkins and Westerink) Letters. p. 7.

[343] Aristeides Papadakis, “Sophronios,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. p. 1928.

[344] Hoyland. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. p. 70.

[345] Hoyland. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. pp. 72-73.

[346] Whealey. “Sermo De Pseudoprophetis of Pseudo-John Chrysostom: A Homily from Antioch under Early Islamic Rule,” Byzantion LXIX (1999), p. 179.

[347] Whealey. “Sermo De Pseudoprophetis of Pseudo-John Chrysostom: A Homily from Antioch under Early Islamic Rule,” Byzantion LXIX (1999), p. 182.

[348] Ibid. p. 184.

[349] Ibid. pp. 183-84.

[350] Alice-Mary Talbot, “Gregory of Dekapolis,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. p. 880.

[351] Hoyland. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. pp. 385-86.

[352] Sahas, Daniel J. “What an infidel saw that a faithful did not: Gregory Dekapolites (d. 842) and Islam.” Greek Orthodox Theological Review. 31 (1986), pp. 47-67.

[353]Sahas, Daniel J. “What an infidel saw that a faithful did not: Gregory Dekapolites (d. 842) and Islam.” Greek Orthodox Theological Review. 31 (1986), p. 52.

[354] Alexander Kazhdan, “Glabas, Isidore,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. p. 852.

[355] Hero, Angela Constantinides, “The First Byzantine Eyewitness Account of the Ottoman Institution of Devsirme: The Homily of Isidore of Thessalonike Concerning the ‘Seizure of the Children’”, in Milton V. Anastos (ed.), To Hellenikon: Studies in Honour of Speros Vryonis, Jr. p. 135.

[356] Hero, Angela Constantinides, “The First Byzantine Eyewitness Account of the Ottoman Institution of Devsirme: The Homily of Isidore of Thessalonike Concerning the ‘Seizure of the Children’”, in Milton V. Anastos (ed.), To Hellenikon: Studies in Honour of Speros Vryonis, Jr. p. 136.

[357] Sahas. “Ritual of Conversion from Islam to the Byzantine Church.” GOTR. 36 (1991), p. 57.

[358] Sahas. “Ritual of Conversion from Islam to the Byzantine Church.” GOTR. 36 (1991), p. 58.

[359] Meyendorff. “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. pp. 102-103.

[360] Sahas. “Ritual of Conversion from Islam to the Byzantine Church.” GOTR. 36 (1991), p. 59.

[361] Hanson, Craig L, “Manuel I Comnenos and the ‘God of Muhammad’: A Study in Byzantine Ecclesiastical Politics,” John Victor Tolan (ed.). Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam. p. 60.

[362] Sahas. “Ritual of Conversion from Islam to the Byzantine Church.” GOTR. 36 (1991), p. 67.

[363] Gibb (trans.). The Damascus Chronicle of the Crusades. pp. 248-49.

[364] Nicol. A Biographical Dictionary of the Byzantine Empire. p. 85.

[365] Sahas. “Ritual of Conversion from Islam to the Byzantine Church.” GOTR. 36 (1991), pp. 61-63.

[366] Alexander Kazhdan, “Doctrina  Jacobi Nuper Baptizati,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. p. 643.

[367] Maas.  Readings in Late Antiquity. p. 354.

[368] Griffith. “Anastasius of Sinai, the Hodegos, and the Muslims.” GOTR. 32 (1987), p. 343.

[369] A series of questions and answers to theological problems.

[370] Griffith. “Anastasius of Sinai, the Hodegos, and the Muslims.” GOTR. 32 (1987), p. 342-43.

[371] Griffith. “Anastasius of Sinai, the Hodegos, and the Muslims.” GOTR. 32 (1987), p. 341.

[372] Griffith. “Anastasius of Sinai, the Hodegos, and the Muslims.” GOTR. 32 (1987), p. 347.

[373] Sahas, Daniel J. “Anastasius of Sinai (c 640-700) and the ‘Anastasii Sinaitae’ on Islam,” in Contacts between Cultures, vol 1. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992. pp. 336-337.

[374] The ‘they’ refers to Monophysites.

[375] Griffith. “Anastasius of Sinai, the Hodegos, and the Muslims.”  GOTR 32 (1987), p. 351.

[376] Griffith. “Anastasius of Sinai, the Hodegos, and the Muslims.”  GOTR 32 (1987), p. 352.

[377] Sahas, Daniel J. “Anastasius of Sinai (c 640-700) and the ‘Anastasii Sinaitae’ on Islam,” in Contacts between Cultures, vol 1. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992. p. 337.

[378] Alexander Kazhdan, “Germanos I,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. pp. 846-847.

[379] Meyendorff, “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. p. 95.

[380] Meyendorff, “Byzantine Views of Islam,” in John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church. p. 96. See note 24 for a detailed explanation.

[381] The tashahhud was the Islamic creed that stated that ‘There is no god but God and Muhammad is His prophet.’

[382] The Allahu Akbar was the cry that ‘God is great.’

[383] Hoyland. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. p. 107.

[384] Mango. The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453. pp. 150-51.

[385] Mango and Scott. The Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor. p. 555.

[386] Alexander. The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition. p. 7.

[387] Palmer. The Seventh Century in the West-Syrian Chronicles. p. 226.

[388] Hoyland. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. pp. 263-264.

[389] Alexander. The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition. p. 45.

[390] Ibid.

[391] Mavrogordato. Digenes Akrites. p. 3.

[392] Mavrogordato. Digenes Akrites. p. 17.

[393] Mavrogordato. Digenes Akrites. p. 25.

[394] Mavrogordato. Digenes Akrites. p. 55.

[395] Mavrogordato. Digenes Akrites. p. 57.

[396] Kazhdan and Epstein. Change in Byzantine Culture in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries. p. 117.

[397] Wilkinson. Jerusalem Pilgrimage 1099 – 1185. pp. 22-23.

[398] Wilkinson. Jerusalem Pilgrimage 1099 – 1185. p. 317.

[399] Vryonis. The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century. p. 411.

[400] Ibid. p. 412.

[401] Nicol. A Biographical Dictionary of the Byzantine Empire. pp. 61-62.

[402] Bryer, Anthony. ‘The Cypto-Christians of the Pontus and Consul William Gifford Palgrave of Trebizond’ (Article XVII) in Peoples and Settlement in Anatolia and the Caucasus. pp. 13-14.

[403] Galatariotou. The Making of a Saint. pp. 13-18.

[404] Galatariotou. The Making of a Saint. p. 261.

[405] Galatariotou. The Making of a Saint. p. 206.

[406] Galatariotou. The Making of a Saint. pp. 229-230.

[407] Nicol. A Biographical Dictionary of the Byzantine Empire. p. 42.

[408] Turner. ‘The Career of George-Gennadios Scholarius.’ Byzantion 39 (1969), p. 420.

[409] Turner. ‘The Career of George-Gennadios Scholarius.’ Byzantion 39 (1969), pp. 446-47.

[410] Papadakis. ‘Gennadios II and Mehmet the Conqueror.’ Byzantion 42 (1972), p. 95.

[411] Papadakis. ‘Gennadios II and Mehmet the Conqueror.’ Byzantion 42 (1972), p. 97.

[412] Papadakis. ‘Gennadios II and Mehmet the Conqueror.’ Byzantion 42 (1972), p. 103.

[413] Papadakis. ‘Gennadios II and Mehmet the Conqueror.’ Byzantion 42 (1972), p. 104.

[414] Turner. ‘The Career of George-Gennadios Scholarius.’ Byzantion 39 (1969), p. 445.

[415] Halkin. Hagiologie Byzantine. pp. 152-169. Thank you to Claire Douglass for her assistance in translating this text.